I-TEAM: What Plant Vogtle's really doing according to employees

Plant Vogtl
Plant Vogtl(WRDW)
Published: Apr. 3, 2020 at 7:02 PM EDT
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Friday, April 3, 2020

News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Earlier this week, our I-TEAM showed you pictures of empty soap dispensers after Georgia Power said it added hand-washing stations.

A worker also showed News 12 a portable restroom, one that was supposedly cleaned and sanitized multiple times a day.

And now, another employee from Plant Vogtle is coming out to tell more about the major coronavirus concerns of employees.

"Number-wise, the worst I've felt, I say an eight," Portia Whitfield said.

"Ooh, that's pretty bad," Meredith Anderson, I-TEAM reporter, said.

"Yeah. Right now, probably about a seven," Whitfield.

Whitfield wasn't feeling well at all during her interview with News 12, but she did it anyway because she's worried Plant Vogtle is putting its workers and their families at risk. She's one of thousands considered "essential.'

She was tested by Plant Vogtle's Ambulatory Respiratory Assessment Clinic for strep throat and the flu. Once her results came back negative despite her symptoms. Whitfield was sent back to work, which didn't sit well with the rest of her crew she worked with.

"They just scared," she said. "They didn't want to work around me."

Whitfield was tested a second time.

"My first fever was, like, 99.1, so about an hour later it was 99.8. They told me my fever had to be 100 in order for them to test me," Whitefield said.

100 degrees to be tested for the coronavirus. So, the clinic didn't test her, even after circling cough and shortness of breath, other symptoms similar to those of coronavirus.

"Went back to work Monday. Wasn't feeling any better. I think I went to Medical about nine something," Whitfield said.

This was visit number 3 and still no coronavirus test, and apparently much concern from her employer that she could be contagious.

"They suggested that I go home a day or two, versus staying that day and getting sick and missing a week or so of work," Whitfield said.

But not long after she got home, she ended up at University hospital, with chest pain, shortness of breath, fever, and cough.

She wasn't admitted to the hospital officially so she still wasn't tested for coronavirus. But she was sent home with instructions for coronavirus quarantine.

Because of her symptoms, that didn't surprise her. But Plant Vogtle's response did.

"They want me to come on-site, so they can test me there. On-site...For coronavirus," Whitfield said.

"Even though you had a piece of paper from a local hospital saying you were quarantined? They wanted you to break that order and go to take their test?" Meredith Anderson asked.

"Yes ma'am," Whitefield said. "I said well the hospital quarantine to the house and to the 14th of this month. So who am I supposed to listen to? Am I supposed to listen to y'all and come back out there, you know, or am I supposed to stay home? I think I should follow the doctor's orders."

Whitfield believes without a positive test, she probably won't get paid. But she believes Vogtle is more interested in getting her back to work on a project that's way behind schedule.

According to her texts with a Vogtle nurse, she couldn't return to work without a "Confirmed negative COVID test." She told News 12 that someone offered to come to her home to test her.

"I'm a mother of 8, a single mother," Whitfield said. "My kids are out there. I've been quarantined to this room, and this is where I've been staying. I'm not even out there, so no, I don't want nobody coming to my house."

Whitfield is also worried about her co-workers and people just like her.

A spokesperson from Georgia Power assured News 12 via e-mail that employees in self-isolation will continue to be paid, something Whitfield will be relieved to know.

The spokesperson also went more detail about Vogtle's medical clinic, the testing that happens there -- and the steps they take to identify people at risk.

The statement from Georgia Power
Does this have to do with employees having paperwork to prove they are out due to coronavirus so they can still be paid? Would a Vogtle nurse offer to make a house call?

Those in self-isolation continue to be paid. We take immediate precautionary steps to identify and notify workers who were located in close proximity to individuals being tested and send those team members home while we await test results. This includes identifying team members who have been in close proximity to individuals in clinician-directed isolation and sending those additional individuals home to self-isolate.

We continue to draw on the expertise of medical professionals and consult the latest recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as we encourage the workforce to more closely monitor their health, report health concerns, and stay home if not feeling well. We have expanded our on-site medical capabilities to further support the safety and health of workers at the site. The expanded onsite medical clinic is open to all Vogtle 3&4 badged workers. Workers feeling ill can visit the clinic, which is open 24/7 and staffed with medical professionals who can administer tests for illnesses such as flu, strep, and COVID-19, if necessary. We expect this expansion to result in easier and faster access to medical professionals for workers at the site who may have health concerns. An accredited lab will process any tests that are performed.

Could you provide insight on why the reactors not online yet are included [as essential]?

In the governor’s executive order, the definition of critical infrastructure applies to the Vogtle 3&4 project site.

Georgia Power says none of the 39 workers they have tested are positive and are still waiting on 20 more results.

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