BATH — Bath Iron Works has reported 36 new COVID-19 cases since Feb. 1, but a vaccine may be available to shipbuilders as soon as a month from now, said a Mid Coast Hospital doctor.

“I believe in the next month we’ll have an expansion of who will be able to get the vaccine, and I think BIW will be in that group, but I don’t decide that, the state does,” said Dr. Christopher Bowe, chief medical officer at Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick. “I’m hopeful that the vaccine will have a substantial impact on BIW.”

BIW argues its workers fall into the 1B or 1C vaccination rollout groups, along with other essential workers, as defined by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Getting vaccinations to people as quickly as possible is the best strategy – along with maintaining use of masks and social distancing – for putting this pandemic behind us,” said BIW Spokesman David Hench. “We continue to communicate with the Maine CDC about when they feel it would be appropriate for our employees to receive vaccine once the people in the 1A category have received their doses.”

Bowe said he believes shipbuilders will be included in Maine’s 1B group alongside other manufacturing employees, but the Maine CDC has final say over who will be included in what group.

“BIW is partnering with our local health systems to make the two-part vaccine available to each of us as soon as possible,” the company wrote on its website. “This work is happening with the Maine CDC to ensure that our receipt of the vaccine is aligned with the state’s prioritization for all Maine residents.”

The state started vaccinating people in the 1A category, including health care workers, residents and workers in long-term care facilities and other public safety personnel.

Earlier this month, people ages 70 and older became eligible, as adults with high-risk medical conditions and other frontline workers wait in line, according to the Maine CDC’s website.

Mid Coast Hospital had administered 11,243 doses of the vaccine as of Wednesday, according to hospital spokesperson Judy Kelsh.

Nearly 216,000 vaccine doses had been administered statewide as of Wednesday and 11.6% of the state’s population had received the first dose of the two-part vaccine, according to Gov. Janet Mills’ office. Of that, 4.47% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated.

Until BIW can get vaccinated, Bowe said it’s imperative for workers to remain masked and do their best to keep their distance from other workers, but that can be challenging in the shipyard.

“In the concept of shipbuilding, you can’t keep people spaced out and bring the products to them like building a car,” said Bowe. “You have something large sitting in one spot and people need to go to it to work on it.”

The shipyard has reported 36 new cases since Feb. 1, according to the company’s website, 29 of whom work in the main shipyard on Washington Street in Bath.

Bowe said it’s important for people continue wearing a face mask and keeping their distance from others, even when they’re feeling well, because anyone could be carrying — and therefore able to transmit — COVID-19. This concept is also one reason it’s important to get vaccinated once a person is able to.

“It’s not only to protect you, it’s to protect everyone around you,” said Bowe. “If you can prevent yourself from carrying the disease and giving it to someone else who would get very sick and could die, why wouldn’t you? Individuals in Maine are very quick to do something to help someone else, and I think that carries over to COVID-19.”

Since March, 279 workers have tested positive across the main shipyard and the company’s Bath and Brunswick facilities. Of those, 183 employees work in the main shipyard, 106 of whom work within the Land Level Transfer Facility and Piers, where ships are assembled and finished.

Within Sagadahoc County, 845 people have tested positive for COVID-19 and one has died as of Thursday, according to the Maine CDC.

Mid Coast Hospital is treating just two COVID-19 patients, but has cared for 104 patients since March, said Kelsh.

The hospital has administered 1,277 tests so far this month, 25 of which were positive, said Kelsh. Since March, the hospital has tested 30,095 individuals since March with 674 total confirmed positive tests.

As of Feb. 7, 258 residents of Bath tested positive.

Statewide, 42,058 Mainers have tested positive for COVID-19 and 641 have died as of Thursday, the Maine CDC reported.


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