- Associated Press - Thursday, March 19, 2020

Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard remain open for business even as other businesses are shutting down because of the coronavirus.

Both the privately owned shipbuilder in Bath, Maine, and the public submarine repair yard in Kittery, Maine, serve a critical national security function under the president’s guidelines issued this week.

In Maine, U.S. Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden urged the defense department to extend deadlines for ships under construction at Bath Iron Works to give the defense contractors leeway to design policies to ensure that workers are protected.

“With the arrival of the coronavirus in Maine and the resulting public health crisis unfolding before our eyes, our nation’s leaders need to confront reality: BIW can’t build the best warships in the world if its shipbuilders are sick or caring for sick family members,” they said.

So far, no Bath Iron Works or Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees have contracted the coronavirus.

For most people, COVID-19 results in only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover, according to the World Health Organization.

Capt. Daniel Ettlich, commander of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, said Thursday that the situation is evolving and changes are being implemented as needed. He noted that several workers who returned from San Diego, an area of concern, have been sent home to complete a self-quarantine.

In Bath, the Machinists Union has expressed frustrated over the situation. Local S6 President Chris Wiers said this week that union leaders have been left out of decision making. He accused the company of being more worried about the bottom line than its shipbuilders.

“Once it hits BIW, the shipyard can potentially become the biggest contributor to the spread of this virus throughout Maine,” he said Monday.

Bath Iron Works spokesman David Hench said the company is not commenting on any operational changes in store for the 5,700 workers. He praised the shipbuilders for “dedication and flexibility in adapting to challenges.”

“We are proud of our shipyard workers who have stepped up during this challenging time to carry out their obligation to our nation’s defense,” he said.

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