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Growing Number of Offshore Workers Test Positive for Coronavirus in Gulf of Mexico

The essential workers vital to energy exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico are all-too familiar with the dangers they face on the job, especially the potential for deadly offshore accidents and explosions.

But today, they’re facing a risk few could have imagined: The novel coronavirus.

No Social Distancing on an Offshore Rig

Up to 16,000 people work – and live – aboard hundreds of offshore rigs, drill ships and support platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these facilities house between 150 and 200 individuals, the majority of whom remain aboard for weeks at a time. During their rotations, workers sleep in shared quarters, navigate tight corridors, and eat meals in communal dining halls.

“There’s no way to do social distancing on a rig,” Tim Tarpley, vice president of the Petroleum Equipment and Services Association, recently told Bloomberg News.

At least 27 workers aboard seven offshore facilities have tested positive for COVID-19, with 19 coming in just two weeks. Meanwhile, confirmed coronavirus infections now exceed 37,000 across Louisiana and Texas, the states that serve as home base for many Gulf of Mexico drilling operations and their workers.

Offshore Drillers Resist Shutdowns During Coronavirus Pandemic

Yet in spite of the coronavirus crisis — not to mention layoffs triggered by a collapsing oil market — offshore drillers are focused on ensuring their rigs remain fully operational, at least for now.

“We don’t believe a large-scale shutdown is needed” Tarpley continued. “Our sector is very confident we’re going to defeat this virus sooner than later and we’re going to turn the country and the world’s economy back on and we’ve got to have that energy ready to go.”

While the industry has protocols in place to handle an outbreak of flu or gastrointestinal illness aboard an offshore facility, energy companies have been forced to come up with a new set of “best practices” for the novel coronavirus.

Offshore Workers Need Access to Coronavirus Tests

That means most workers must now submit to temperature checks and health screenings before boarding helicopters bound for a rig, while others are required to undergo a 14-day isolation period before they can head offshore. Some companies have also limited rig turnover by extending offshore assignments to 21 days. Meanwhile, any worker exhibiting coronavirus symptoms once onboard is quickly isolated and flown ashore by crews in protective gear.

Yet even the industry admits these strategies aren’t enough to ensure rigs remain free of outbreaks, especially as COVID-19 can be transmitted by asymptomatic carriers.  So, energy companies are now pushing federal and state authorities to make coronavirus testing available to all offshore workers.

“In a perfect world, you really have to test everybody going out on a rig or on a helicopter, and then you know you’re clean,” Tarpley said.

Unfortunately, this will surely prove difficult, considering most communities in the United States continue to struggle with severe testing shortages of their own.

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Our Undefeated Offshore Injury Lawyers have won billions for thousands of offshore workers and families injured or tragically killed aboard oil rigs, drilling platforms, and support vessels along the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana.

If you or someone you loved were hurt in an offshore explosion or accident, please call 1-888-603-3636 or Click Here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form.

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