The face shields produced by BIW are designed to wrap around the head at the forehead level and cover the entire face. The company’s three 3D printers produce 12 shields per day for MaineHealth. Photo courtesy of David Hench

BATH — A small group of workers at Bath Iron Works have turned their attention from building destroyers to 3D printing plastic face shields for Maine’s health care workers.

BIW Engineering’s Advanced Concepts team is printing plastic face shield holders, which wrap around the head to hold plastic shields being cut by the BIW Sign Shop, according to a company statement released Tuesday.

Plastic face shields are used by health care workers to protect the face from bodily fluids and respiratory droplets. This is particularly useful when treating coronavirus patients, as the CDC believes the virus spreads through respiratory droplets from an infected person.

The company’s three 3D printers have been programmed to work around the clock to produce 12 shields per day for MaineHealth, the state’s largest health care system. BIW delivered 75 pieces of personal protective equipment to Maine Medical Center on Monday.

David Hench, BIW spokesman, said the shipyard hopes to eventually make 100 face shields per week until there is no longer a shortage.

John Porter, spokesman for MaineHealth, said all donated equipment “must meet clinical standards for effectiveness if they are to be deployed to our care teams.”

To accomplish this, Porter said donors can fill out a form on MaineHealth’s website that allows the company to review the assistance offer.

“We really appreciate community partners like BIW stepping up to help us during this crisis,” said Porter. “Not only does such assistance provide much needed resources as we care for the people most impacted by COVID-19, but this generosity sends a powerful message to our caregivers that they are valued by our communities.”

This move from BIW comes one week after all four members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation wrote to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor requesting more PPE for Maine healthcare workers, citing healthcare workers account for 17% of Maine’s coronavirus cases.

“With each passing day that the virus continues to spread, health care workers and first line responders across the country are bravely risking their lives to aid their fellow Americans through this devastating pandemic,” Sens. Collins and King and Reps. Pingree and Golden wrote. “It is imperative that those on the front lines of this pandemic – the health care workers and first responders – have ready access to potentially lifesaving PPE.”

BIW also donated 3,200 medical-grade N95 respirator masks to MaineHealth earlier this month, which were distributed based on need to the hospitals and other facilities the health system operates in Maine.

The shipyard released a separate statement Tuesday adding it’s assisting Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products “in the evaluation of options to expand its production of sterile swabs necessary for increased COVID-19 testing across the country.”

Puritan Medical posted a blog on its website on Monday saying it has ramped up production of nasal swabs used to test people for coronavirus infection and is currently manufacturing “over 1 million swabs for COVID-19 testing a week,” the Portland Press Herald reported.

Hench did not comment further on how BIW is helping the medical company.

While the shipyard continues to produce protective equipment for Maine hospitals, it encourages its own 6,800 employees to wear face coverings while at work. The company said Monday it has distributed over 4,000 face coverings to workers, but wearing them is not mandatory.

The company has received criticism in recent weeks from Maine lawmakers and the leaders of BIW’s largest unions calling on the shipyard to do more to protect its workforce. The union demanded the shipyard close and give its employees paid leave, which was only amplified when the company announced a second BIW worker tested positive on April 2.

The first employee who tested positive has since recovered and returned to work, and the second employee remains under medical supervision, according to a company statement released Tuesday, adding BIW is not aware of any additional positive cases as of Tuesday.

Most recently, 72 Maine lawmakers sent a letter to Dirk Lesko, president of BIW, pleading for the shipyard to take additional steps to protect workers as coronavirus cases continue to rise across the state. Lesko responded with a letter to the state legislators in which he wrote, “The Department of Defense is charged with responsibility for national security and it is up to the DoD to decide whether we remain in operation.”

The CDC reported 888 total confirmed coronavirus cases in the state and 36 Mainers have died as of Tuesday. However, 443 people have recovered from the virus, bringing active cases down to 406.


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