Bath built is best built. That statement is as true today as it has ever been. The reason? The thousands of men and women who walk through the gates of Bath Iron Works every day to build incredible and technologically advanced ships that would protect our great nation in a time of war.

Today, our community and the world face a different kind of crisis – a public health crisis. But make no mistake, it’s a crisis of similar proportions. The 2019 novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has rippled through communities across the globe causing lasting damage in its wake. COVID-19 poses the same threats to our loved ones here in Maine if we don’t take proper action.

Most at risk are the very people who give credence to the renowned statement that “Bath built is best built.” The best defense against COVID-19 is social distancing and avoiding crowds of people. But right now, BIW workers are still expected to show up on the job to build ships for the U.S. Navy, which runs contrary to CDC and WHO guidelines for reducing the spread of this virus. We need to do better.

Not only does this put the men and women that make up the backbone of BIW at risk, but it also puts their loved ones at home at risk, and in turn, our entire community. The best way to ensure our local and statewide health care system has capacity to care for COVID-19 patients is to “flatten the curve.” Flattening the curve means slowing the rate of transmission to limit the number of people who are infected at any given time to minimize the impact on our health care system. The only way to effectively do that is to engage in social distancing.

It’s why Gov. Janet Mills issued a “Stay Healthy at Home” order. It’s why grocery stores are taping out 6-foot spacing for lines. It’s why schools are closed. It’s why we can’t hug loved ones outside of our household to comfort them in this time of crisis.

In Maine, we have always stepped up to care for our neighbors in times of crisis. It is who we are. BIW is an economic pillar of our community, and we are enormously proud of the ships Maine workers build there. BIW must step up now to care for our community during this crisis.

I am by no means a public health professional, but I implore BIW, Maine CDC, and public health experts to work together expeditiously to determine the right course of action. If the public health of our community requires a two-week or longer shut down of the yard, then BIW must take that drastic and unprecedented step. Otherwise, it won’t have a workforce to build ships after we return to normal.

COVID-19 is already in our community. We know two BIW workers have tested positive for the virus. It’s only a matter of time until the virus spreads further in the yard and in the community beyond.

No one should have to choose between going to work to earn a living and keeping their family healthy and safe. That’s why I have not once, not twice, but three times written along with many of my colleagues in the Maine Legislature to our federal delegation asking Sens. Collins and King, and Reps. Pingree and Golden to push the Secretary of the Navy and Department of Defense to give BIW and similar private defense contractors the necessary flexibility to protect the health of their workers and the community, and to ensure their workforce is still there after this public health crisis. In response, our federal delegation took up the torch and urged action from the Navy and DOD. The Navy’s own yards, including Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, have whittled down their workers on-site to those who are absolutely essential and not at-risk. Our federal delegation called for the same measures to be taken at private defense contractors like BIW and Ingalls. The Navy has not responded to our most recent request.

I also wrote along with local delegation members to Dr. Nirav Shah, director of Maine CDC, to inquire what guidance, resources and oversight Maine CDC is providing to BIW as it continues operations.  It’s important to make sure BIW workers are safe in their place of work. I have called on BIW to make more information available and continue transparency about what measures it’s taking to sanitize, socially distance and in general protect the health of its people.

I have been closely following the progression of the virus in Maine and reviewing models including the one created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that predicts COVID cases in Maine will peak on April 17. Each day we wait, makes it less likely that we will succeed in flattening the curve.

Everyone who believes in BIW and the talented workers who walk through those gates needs to understand what is at risk if we don’t take action. BIW workers deserve better. The health of our community demands better.

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