Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility is monitoring 14 potential cases of the new coronavirus strain amid a global pandemic, officials announced Monday.
An All Hands memo from yard commander Capt. Dianna Wolfson indicated that four other individuals there tested negative for COVID-19 infection.
Although Navy Times sent the command a list of questions, officials said they would be unable to answer them until Tuesday.
It remains unclear if the individuals are service members, civilian Department of Defense employees or contractors or whether any of the test results came back later on Monday.
It’s also unknown whether those who have been tested are isolated in their residences or quarters while self-monitoring for symptoms of COVID-19.
“PSNS & IMF leadership continues to meet daily to evaluate the situation and assess the need for further action in coordination with Naval Sea Systems Command and U.S. Pacific Fleet,” read a prepared statement from the command emailed to Navy Times on Monday evening.
“The health and safety of our workforce and community is - and always will be - the shipyard’s top priority. The shipyard’s efforts and planning are focused on ensuring we are aligned with DoD guidance, implementing (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations and fulfilling our critical national security mission. This has been a dynamic and quickly-changing environment, and we are working to keep the workforce informed. The health of our people is our primary concern.”
With more than 14,000 employees, the sprawling yard in Bremerton, Washington, repairs ships for the U.S. Pacific Fleet while a sister site, the Trident Refit Facility, is the largest command at Naval Base Kitsap - Bangor, about 18 miles away.
The Monday message did not indicate where the 14 individuals worked.
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard is the largest of the nation’s four public yards and is the only location on the West Coast that can make significant repairs to an aircraft carrier.
Preserving the health of the workforce there is vital to national security but Puget Sound is at the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak in the Pacific Northwest.
By Sunday afternoon, the Washington Department of Health had recorded 769 positive cases of COVID-19, including 42 deaths, the bulk of them in King County.
The shipyard’s Kitsap County is to the west of King County, separated by Puget Sound. Kitsap health authorities have counted only seven confirmed cases so far, plus 113 negative results.
“Unfortunately, we expect to see more cases of COVID-19 in our county in the coming days and weeks, especially as testing becomes more available,” Kitsap Public Health District Health Officer Dr. Susan Turner said in a prepared statement late Friday.
“We need to work together as a community to slow the spread of this illness and protect our neighbors who are most at risk. We are asking all Kitsap residents to stay calm, stay informed and take steps to protect their health and the health of those around them. It is very important to stay home when you are sick and we encourage community members to assist friends and family who may need to stay home.”
To combat the spread of coronavirus at the yard, Wolfson’s message indicated that 2,000 cleaning kits had been prepared for employees to disinfect their work spaces.
Following a travel ban instituted by the Pentagon late Friday, Wolfson wrote that officials will approve travel orders only projects considered important to the mission.
That means no travel will be approved for conferences or training through May 11, but commanders will okay travel that directly supports ship maintenance, such as the Japan-based aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan or its sister Nimitz-class flattop Abraham Lincoln, which made a homeport shift to Naval Air Station North Island on Jan. 20.
Service members are restricted to local leave, unless granted waivers by commanders.
Wolfson wrote that her command is urging those employees who can telework to do so while leaders explore alternative work schedules, like shift changes.
“This one is especially tough because the school closures just got announced fully on Friday,” she said. “As a command, we need to see where we stand with available workforce and go from there.”
On the other side of the country, Terri Davis, the spokesperson at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia, told Navy Times that the installation has cancelled all non-mission events.
No one has tested positive for COVID-19 at the Hampton Roads yard, but officials did not know if anyone had been tested.
The shipyard is encouraging good hygiene and supervisors are increasing the number of inspections work spaces.
Work at the shipyard in the time of COVID-19 is an “extremely fluid situation,” she said.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
Courtney Mabeus is a senior writer at Navy Times. Mabeus previously covered the military for The Virginian-Pilot, in Norfolk, Va., where she first set foot on an aircraft carrier.