BIW workers leave the shipyard during shift change on April 13, 2021. The shipyard is encouraging workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, but not all workers say they will. (Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record) 

Bath Iron Works, one of the state’s largest employers, is encouraging its workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19 as the shipyard continues to report new cases, but workers appear divided over whether they will receive it.

Paul Toothaker, a preservation technician at BIW, said he’ll get vaccinated for COVID-19 when vaccine appointments become available. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Recor

The shipyard, boasting a workforce of roughly 6,900, has reported 26 new COVID-19 cases so far this month as of Tuesday, according to the company’s website. The company is on track to surpass the 37 new cases reported last month.

Since the pandemic reached Maine in March 2020, BIW has reported 391 total COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, according to BIW’s website.

BIW spokesman David Hench said no BIW employees have died from COVID-19.

Although the company cannot force employees to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, “BIW employees are strongly encouraged to take the vaccine to protect themselves, their families, their coworkers and our community, to help bring an end to this pandemic,” the shipyard wrote on its website.

“(BIW) tells us to wear masks and get vaccinated, but people do what they want, mostly,” said Zaida Gaug, a BIW insulator of two years. She said the company isn’t offering workers an incentive to get vaccinated.

The shipyard has repeatedly said it cannot close due to COVID-19 because of its designation as “critical infrastructure” because it builds destroyers for the Navy.

“Because BIW is designated as critical infrastructure by the federal government, our employees recognize they have a special duty to keep themselves safe while continuing to meet the needs of our country,” Hench wrote in a statement Tuesday.

Gaug said she’s “skeptical” of the vaccine and may roll up her sleeve eventually, but wants to see how others fare after they’ve received it.

Similarly, Brooks Peaslee, a BIW electrician of one year, said he believes “it’s the wrong time” for him to receive the vaccine because “I like to take my time and be cautious.”

Paul Toothaker, a preservation technician at BIW, said he’ll get vaccinated when it becomes easier to get an appointment. He said he believes BIW workers who choose not to get vaccinated do so “because of government distrust.”

“It’s a pandemic and it’s a big deal, but people think there’s more to it than they’re being told,” said Toothaker.

BIW planner Chester Coonradt said he’s relieved to be fully vaccinated.

“I was nervous and anxious to get it and was happy when it became available to me,” said Coonradt.

Maine residents ages 16 and older became eligible for the vaccine on April 7, launching a wave of inoculations across the state.

Locally, Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick has administered 39,392 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to hospital spokeswoman Judy Kelsh.

“If we continue to have a consistent vaccine supply, our regional Vaccination Clinic is able to administer 1,000 daily vaccinations,” the hospital wrote in a statement issued last week.

In the same statement, Mid Coast Hospital recognized the recent rise in COVID-19 cases after numbers lulled last month and urged the public to get vaccinated.

“If you are looking to support the ongoing efforts to combat COVID-19, we have one simple request: please get your COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you are able, and encourage others to do so as well,” the statement reads. “It has been a challenging year for everyone, but vaccination is the one reliable pathway to end this pandemic.”

According to the state vaccination dashboard, nearly 10,800 people in Sagadahoc County were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, making up 36% of the county’s eligible population.

Statewide, over 386,600 Mainers, about 34% of the state’s eligible population, were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, according to the state’s vaccination dashboard.

While Mainers continue to get vaccinated in droves, the number of new COVID-19 cases reported throughout the state is also increasing, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

On Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 571 new cases within Maine, the highest number of new cases reported in a single day since January, the Portland Press Herald reported.

New cases per day have more than doubled in the last month, driven largely by younger residents who have not yet been vaccinated against the virus, the Portland Press Herald reported. Of the 571 new cases Tuesday, 297 of them, or 52%, were in individuals under the age of 30.

The seven-day daily case average jumped to 370 cases, up from 175 this time last month.

Kelsh said the hospital has administered 1,679 tests so far this month, with 80 confirmed positive. Since March 2020, the hospital has given 34,176 tests, 854 of which were positive.

Within Sagadahoc County, 1,118 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since March 2020 and eight have died as of Tuesday, according to the Maine CDC.

Statewide, 54,827 Mainers have tested positive and 753 have died as of Tuesday.

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