Ben Agas, a fire-alarm electrician at Berkeley Lab since 2014, lives in a household of “essential employees” – those who are still called into work during a time when most in California must shelter in place to avoid the risk of infection by the virus causing COVID-19.
His wife works in a hospital, his son is an emergency medical technician who transports patients to hospitals, and Agas continues to carry out his duties at the Lab as a part of a small remaining force of essential workers.
“We just have to keep on our toes to minimize risks and do the best we can,” he said.
Since March 17, the Lab’s main site and satellite sites have been maintained in a “safe and stable standby” status, with only essential research and maintenance work continuing.
Agas was offered the opportunity to take a slightly earlier shift during this stand-down in Lab operations, so he now works from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. rather than the typical 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily shift.
“We report to the same people as before, but we use different methods of communication now: text, cell phones, radio, and email – more than we used to when we would speak to people face-to-face in meetings or in a shop or office setting,” he said.
“We don’t go into the shop anymore,” he said. “We’re isolated to our vehicle or out in the field. When we do have to work together we maintain social distancing, anywhere from six to 10 feet away.” He added, “We are trying to keep all of the tools that we use to ourselves.” And workers carry a spray bottle to sanitize shared equipment.
Contractors are not allowed on-site at this time, which also makes it easier to maintain social distancing and to use Lab-internal radio communications to keep in touch with other Lab tradespersons also working at the site, Agas said.
Just as before, electricians on his team are ready to be called in to offer support at any time of day, he noted. “Whether it’s a PSPS (public safety power shut-off), coronavirus standby, or a regular working day,” his team members remain ready “to safeguard the hill,” Agas said.
His commute to and from the Lab during the state’s shelter-in-place order has been a breeze, he said – something that he wishes could last. “That might change once we get back to normal.”
And he does look forward to this return to normal. “I look forward to the elimination of this coronavirus and to everyone just getting back to work,” he said. “Eventually we will get back to being normal. They’ll figure this out, but nobody knows when that time is going to be.”