NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said: “This evening, NASA leadership has decided to elevate all centers and facilities to Stage 3 of NASA’s Response Framework. Effective immediately, all employees and contractors will move to mandatory telework until further notice. Mission-essential personnel will continue to be granted access onsite.
“Please contact your supervisor as soon as possible if you have any questions.”
Mr Bridenstine added that although a “limited amount” of NASA employees have tested positive for COVID-19, the government agency wants to be pre-emptive and slow the rate of the pathogen spreading, a method known as “flattening the curve.”
The US space agency administrator explained how they will continue to “monitor developments regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) around the nation”.
Adding that NASA is “closely following the advice of health professionals and the White House Coronavirus Task Force to keep our workforce safe to implementing best practices early and quickly will increase likelihoods for better outcomes”.
Mr Bridenstine added: “NASA’s early and thoughtful actions in coordination with our country’s unified response to this health emergency is an incredible display of national solidarity.
“Thank you for your vigilance and flexibility.
“I am confident your diligence and commitment will ensure our mission will continue.
“Please make certain you are giving the appropriate attention to your health and that of your family.”
On Tuesday an employee of the Marshall Space Flight Centre in Alabama tested positive for Covid-19.
NASA then announced it would move the centre to Stage 3.
Bringing the other NASA centres up to Stage 3 does not imply that the virus is running rampant through the agency.
Mr Bridenstine said: “Although a limited amount of employees have tested positive for COVID-19, it is imperative that we take this pre-emptive step to thwart further spreading of the virus among the workforce and our communities.
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The NASA response framework only goes up to Stage 4.
At that final stage, no exceptions are made for mission-essential personnel.
Stage 4 would be that all NASA facilities are closed, “except to protect life and critical infrastructure,” and all travel is suspended.
As of Wednesday, there have been more than 198,000 reported cases of coronavirus, including at least 6,400 in the US.
But those numbers will get much higher over the coming weeks, health experts have stressed.
The outbreak has already had a serious impact on the space industry.
A number of high-profile spaceflight and astronomy conferences have been canceled or shifted to online-only mode, and travel restrictions emplaced to slow the virus’ spread may have contributed to the delay of a European-Russian Mars mission from 2020 to 2022.
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