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The president of the largest combined union at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery is calling for the facility to temporarily shut down to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus there.
Richard Smith, president of the Portsmouth Federal Employees Metal Trades Council, told the Portsmouth Herald that the coronavirus is “coming” and that it is “best for the shipyard and the employees” to shut down for a couple weeks.
His remarks come after the U.S. Navy confirmed a civilian worker from the shipyard died Sunday from complications related to COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. That worker was assigned to Submarine Maintenance Engineering, Planning and Procurement Activity, according to the Navy.
[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]
Up the coast, Bath Iron Works has faced similar calls to shut down because of the coronavirus. Those calls increased after the shipyard’s parent company, General Dynamics, last month confirmed a worker had tested positive for the virus, leading more than half of workers to not show up for their shifts two days after that became public.
Not all the union leadership at the Kittery shipyard, which employs about 8,000 people, are backing calls to temporarily shutter the facility. Larry Dennis, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, dismissed the idea of closing the shipyard, telling the Herald that “We’re seeing more transmission come from the grocery store than we are at the shipyard.”
A spokesperson for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard told the Herald that there are no plans to close the facility, adding that it has taken “mitigating measures” to reduce the risk of the virus’ spread there.
So far, there are now 537 confirmed cases of the coronavirus spread across 15 of Maine’s counties, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 121 have been reported in York County, where the shipyard is located and one of two counties where “community transmission” has been confirmed.