Coronavirus Case Count Rises at Newport News Shipbuilding

USS George Washington departs NNS after an overhaul period (file image courtesy USN)

Published Jul 19, 2020 2:14 PM by The Maritime Executive

Huntington Ingalls' Newport News Shipbuilding is struggling with a rising number of COVID-19 cases. Over the course of the past week, NNS has reported 84 new confirmed positives, including 18 on Thursday alone. Its total case count since the start of the pandemic, including individuals who have since recovered, stands at about 270. 

NNS is critical to the functioning of the U.S. Navy: it is the only builder of nuclear-powered carriers in the world and one of the two American yards capable of building nuclear-powered submarines. Given its strategic importance, it has continued operations through the pandemic, even as other businesses have closed due to the risk of COVID-19. 

Though many elements of NNS' work are secret by necessity, the yard has been open about the extent of its coronavirus outbreak. However, its regular reporting has drawn criticism - including complaints that NNS' notifications come too late to reduce the risk of exposing healthy workers to known positive cases.

"I’ve been asked whether I think these daily messages cause more frustration and concern, rather than less," said NNS president Jennifer Boykin in a statement. "My promise to communicate regularly, and to be transparent, has not changed. In fact, I believe it’s needed now more than ever."

Outside the yard, the community of Hampton Roads, Virginia has its own accelerating outbreak, recording as many as 340 new cases per day last week. The increase in community spread in the town is attributed primarily to the activity of younger people in their 20s: locally, this demographic has experienced a 250 percent increase in daily new case rate since early June.

"These numbers are a sobering reminder that what happens outside our gates impacts what happens inside them. This is why we urge you to practice social distancing and wear a mask whenever you are in public," said Boykin on Tuesday. "Based on the trends we are seeing in our community, our cases will very likely continue to grow. We are in the process now of refining our long-term operations plan to address how we safely operate with no foreseeable end to COVID-19."

Masks have been mandatory inside the yard since late April, and NNS has been attempting to enforce social distancing wherever possible.