BATH — A second Bath Iron Works employee has tested positive for coronavirus, the company announced Thursday evening, as the shipyard remains open despite calls to shutter in response to the pandemic.

David Hench, BIW’s spokesman, said the employee was last on company property on March 31 but declined to say where in the facility the employee worked.

“BIW has notified employees that had close workplace contact with the individual to ensure they take self-monitoring measures as recommended by the CDC,” the company wrote in a statement. “Immediate and thorough sanitization is underway in all areas where the individual worked.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus grew to 376 as of Thursday, an increase of 32 cases from Wednesday.

Although the number of cases has risen both across the state, the company shows no sign of halting production. Shipyard officials have pointed to a presidential mandate that requires the shipyard to remain open because it builds destroyers for the U.S. Navy.

“More than once during our 132 years building ships here in Maine, the United States Navy has called on this shipyard to support our nation’s defense priorities,” Dirk Lesko, president of BIW, said in a note to employees Wednesday. “Through the uncertainty and volatility of our nation’s current public health challenges, we are being asked to continue to answer that call today. Our work has been designated as critical to national security.”

Leaders of BIW’s two largest unions, Machinists Union Locals S6 and S7, have repeatedly called on the company to close and put its workers on paid leave to prevent coronavirus from spreading throughout the shipyard and the community. According to Chris Wiers, president of Local S6, BIW employs workers from every county in Maine.

The shipyard allowed workers to take unpaid leave, or use allotted paid time off, if they were concerned about catching the virus. About half of BIW’s workforce showed up for work last week, the union said. That trend continued into this week.

Last week, Maine’s congressional delegation sent a letter to Navy officials urging them to allow BIW management to provide its workers with the same level of protection from the coronavirus that the Navy is requiring for workers at its public shipyards. Those protections include allowing workers who may be more vulnerable to severe symptoms if they contract COVID-19 to stay home from work on paid administrative leave.

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, along with Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden released their letter last Friday.

“We are dealing with a highly contagious and deadly pandemic unlike anything our country has faced in over a century, and private shipyards are working to simultaneously maintain contractual obligations while complying with critical state and local public health orders,” the lawmakers wrote. “… We believe the Navy should take aggressive actions to ensure the health of the shipyard industrial base workforce is not put at undue risk as governments at all levels work to halt the spread of COVID-19.”


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