Bath Iron Works surpassed 300 reported COVID-19 cases among its nearly 6,900 workers, but reported cases from the shipyard seem to be declining as the shipyard holds out hope to vaccinate workers.

The company reported 311 workers have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 2020, as of Thursday. The most recent positive case was last at work on Sunday, Feb. 28, according to the company’s website. Of the 311 total cases, 209 have come from the main shipyard on Washington Street in Bath.

“Of the 286 confirmed coronavirus cases among BIW employees, 282 of those employees have returned to work after being cleared to do so,” BIW spokesman David Hench wrote in an email to The Times Record.

Last month, the shipyard reported 64 cases of COVID-19, a sharp decline in cases compared to the 137 COVID-19 cases BIW reported in January, according to BIW.

Hench said the shipyard is hopeful the decline in reported cases continues as the company “continues to emphasize safe practices including mask wearing, social distancing and swift contact tracing as soon as a positive case is identified to reduce the risk of exposure and infection.”

No BIW workers have died due to COVID-19, according to Hench. One executive died by suicide in late June as a result of the pandemic, the Portland Press Herald reported. James Richardson, 54, of South Portland, was a 32-year employee, working most recently as director of planning. The newspaper notes that because of the pandemic Richardson suffered from anxiety about personal finances as well as fear, depression and isolation.

BIW has explored the possibility of getting its workers included with other essential workers in the 1B or 1C vaccination rollout groups, as defined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. However, Maine’s plan to vaccinate people by age, oldest to youngest, may hamper the company’s hopes of getting younger employees vaccinated earlier.

“We continue to look to the Maine CDC and the Maine Immunization Program for their decisions on which population groups should be vaccinated when,” Hench wrote Thursday. “As a result of the state’s decision to schedule vaccination availability based on age, we are encouraging employees to sign up to get vaccinated as soon as their age group is eligible.”

Janet Mills announced earlier this week that the state will break from its initial rollout model to offer vaccinations to school staff, regardless of age. However, other essential workers, such as people in the manufacturing industry, will most likely need to wait, said Maine CDC Spokesman Robert Long.

“The directive to vaccinate school staff came from President Biden,” said Long. “He has not issued a similar directive related to shipyard workers, so Bath Iron Works employees ages 60 and older are eligible to be vaccinated, with those 50 and older becoming eligible in April.”

Maine expects to make vaccines available to residents 50 and older in April, followed by Mainers  in their 40s in May, and Mainers in their 30s in June.

Hench was unable to say how many BIW employees have been vaccinated because workers don’t need to share that medical information with the employer, and the company will not disclose employee medical information.

“We continue to encourage employees to get vaccinated as soon as they are able to protect their own health, their coworkers and their loved ones, and in hopes that we can resume normal activity as soon as it is safely possible,” said Hench.

Dr. Christopher Bowe, chief medical officer at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick, told The Times Record last month he’s “hopeful the vaccine will have a substantial impact on BIW,” though he didn’t know when it would be made available to them.

Mid Coast Hospital has administered more than 20,000 vaccinations as of Thursday, according to hospital spokesperson Judy Kelsh.

“Mid Coast Hospital is working hard to vaccinate as many individuals as quickly as possible, but we are strictly adhering to the guidance put forth by Maine CDC at all times,” said Kelsh. “We expect that our vaccine supply will continue to improve over the coming weeks with the arrival of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has expanded vaccine availability statewide. State leadership determines the distribution of vaccine and eligible recipients, but we hope the addition of the third approved vaccine will help deliver us more vaccines to administer.”

Nearly 20% of Sagadahoc County had received the first dose of the vaccine of the vaccine and just over 13% had received the second dose as of Thursday, according to the Maine CDC. Statewide, over 18% of the population had received the first dose of vaccine and nearly 10% of the population had received the second, as of Thursday.

Within Sagadahoc County, 890 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and five have died as of Thursday, according to the Maine CDC. Statewide, 45,227 Mainers have tested positive for COVID-19 since March and 705 have died since March 2020.

This story has been updated to correct the number of deaths in Maine due to COVID-19.


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