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Shell: 17 new COVID cases at cracker plant, 14 active

Shell: 17 new COVID cases at cracker plant, 14 active

By Chrissy Suttles: Posted Aug 4, 2020 at 5:28 PM

The site has seen 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases since March — 14 active and 21 recovered. More than 1,000 tests have been conducted at Shell’s on-site lab, with approximately 1 percent coming back positive.

POTTER TWP. — The number of COVID-19 cases at Beaver County’s ethane cracker plant has nearly doubled in less than three weeks.

Another 17 employees at the Shell Chemicals complex have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since mid-July, and 35 people have been infected since the pandemic hit Pennsylvania in March.

On July 16, a total of 18 workers had tested positive for the virus, with the majority of new cases confirmed in July. Two cases were confirmed in March, one in April and three in June.

There were 35 total cases as of Tuesday— 14 active and 21 recovered, according to a daily information sheet provided to plant workers and confirmed by Shell. Those 21 employees are clear to return to work.

More than 340 employees have been screened for the virus since March, 80 percent of whom were eligible to return to work. Sixty-nine people are currently in self-quarantine, less than 2 percent of the overall workforce. On July 16, a total of 213 workers had been screened and 86 were self-isolating.

Construction at the $6 billion plant ramped back up in early May after Gov. Tom Wolf lifted bans on related activities; Shell introduced about 300 people to the site weekly until June 30, when company officials paused the workforce expansion amid rising virus cases in the region.

Shell implemented an on-site COVID-19 testing lab in mid-July and has added to the workforce at the same rate since July 20. To date, more than 1,000 COVID-19 tests have been conducted at the lab, with approximately 1 percent coming back positive, according to Shell.

“As we add additional workers, the site’s testing lab is providing site leaders with a valuable tool that is helping the site to protect worker safety and manage COVID-19 challenges,” Shell said in a statement. “All workers newly joining or rejoining the work force undergo reorientation training that includes an onsite COVID-19 test required to gain badge access to the site.”

About half of the plant’s pre-pandemic workforce of 8,000 is back to work. Parking reached full capacity in May, when Shell began shuttling workers in a socially distant manner. Employees, who are required to wear masks, receive daily temperature checks and eat lunch two to a table on opposite corners with plastic barriers separating them.

Some plant employees, though, are concerned about crowded buses, improper mask use and “chaos” when they punch out for the day. During an early morning lightning stand down two weeks ago, folks at one bus lot had to sit inside the bus — also on stand down — for more than an hour in close proximity to one another, or stand in the rain huddled together, a few employees told The Times.

Others said Shell is taking all the necessary precautions to protect workers — they’re happy to be working at a time of record unemployment in Pennsylvania.

Larry Nelson, a business representative for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 712 in Vanport Township, hasn’t heard many complaints from members at the plant.

“I think their first thought is to keep everyone safe,” he said. “With the amount of cases across the country, it’s at a point where everyone knows someone who has gotten COVID. And, in the construction industry, if you’re not happy on a job, you just leave and go to another. That’s the nature of our business — we work ourselves out of a job.”

In early July, Beaver County Commissioners’ Chairman Daniel Camp alerted state officials to the growing number of positive cases at the cracker plant after corresponding with employees.

“The concern we have is with the whole community, not just Shell,” Camp said on Tuesday. “It’s important we make sure to keep an eye on all the businesses if they’re seeing outbreaks. With Shell being a very large employer, I hope to see they can maintain low numbers throughout the pandemic.”

Commissioner Jack Manning said Shell has done a good job keeping virus cases down given the number of workers at the petrochemical facility daily.

Beaver County led the state in percent positivity during the second half of July, although new numbers show that rate declined in the most recent seven-day period analyzed by the state. Beaver County’s rate, at 6.5 percent, was the sixth highest in the state last week. The percent of new COVID-19 tests coming back positive climbed in Lawrence County, which now leads the state with a positivity rate of 7.4 percent.

On Tuesday, Beaver County had a total of 1,261 COVID-19 cases and 89 related deaths, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“We continue to follow and enforce COVID-19 guidelines as provided by the Centers for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Health,” Shell representatives said in a statement.


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