Saratoga County

Cluster of COVID cases at Kesselring site in Saratoga County; More than 50 cases reported since July 1

More than 1,100 people at naval site tested in five days
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Categories: News, Saratoga County, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

WEST MILTON — There have been more than 50 cases of COVID-19 since July 1 at the Kenneth A. Kesselring naval nuclear training site in Saratoga County, including 30 currently active cases, the Naval Nuclear Laboratory and public health officials say.

To stop the spread, the state Health Department and Saratoga County Department of Public Health last week completed community testing on 1,110 individuals who train or work at the sprawling and tightly secured site, which is located on 2,500 acres located in both West Milton and Galway.

The testing identified three additional cases and required the quarantining of four other persons.

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“Completing this testing is important for the health of our employees and the safety of the public and will allow the Kesselring site to complete their mission in support of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program,” Naval Nuclear Laboratory spokesman Gene Terwilliger said in a statement on Friday.

The Kesselring site is part of the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna, used to train U.S. Navy sailors in the operation of the small nuclear reactors used to power Navy submarines and aircraft carriers.

It is the only land-based training facility used by the Navy, and at any given time there are hundreds of students and instructors, as well as civilian employees and contractors who operate the facility and maintain the equipment, which includes two small nuclear reactors. In total, about 2,000 people work there — and officials maintain some presence of COVID cases is expected, given the number of people there.

“The state of New York has identified that the results of the cluster testing to date are not alarming, and are aligned with the nominal positivity rate in the area,” Terwilliger’s statement said.

The Saratoga County Department of Health reports, however, that there are currently 69 active COVID cases in the county, indicating the cluster at Kesselring represents nearly half the current cases. Saratoga County officials referred requests for comment to the Navy.

The state Health Department praised the naval site for acting quickly to stop any further spread.

“We commend the management at the Kesselring Site for partnering with the State and County DOH on an aggressive testing program for their workforce,” said state Health Department spokesman Gary Holmes. “Quick action like this ensures that all the appropriate public health measures will continue to be in place to help protect both the employees and the entire community.”

The testing took place over five days, between July 30 and Aug. 3. The three new cases identified through that testing are included in the 52-case total, Navy officials said.

In addition to the 30 active cases, there are 100 individuals who are in quarantine or isolation, the Navy statement said. It is unclear whether anyone has been hospitalized.  “Due to privacy concerns, we are not commenting on individual cases or treatments,” the statement said.

The Navy says Kesselring staff takes appropriate precautions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the site has followed Centers for Disease Control guidelines, it said, and the site is exercising strict personal distancing, disinfecting, checking temperatures, mandating proper protective equipment and conducting prompt contact tracing when necessary.

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Milton Town Supervisor Benny Zlotnick said he’s been happy with how Kesselring officials have communicated with the town about the situation, and he believes it is under control.

“We’ve been in the loop every step of the way,” he said. “They said they had a little rise and then they came in and told us about how they were going to do the testing. I’ve been really pleased with the communications. Luckily, they have the manpower and resources to get that done.”

Reach staff writer Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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