With COVID on the Wane, Newport News Suspends Mask Requirements

File image courtesy Huntington Ingalls

Published Mar 4, 2022 10:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Huntington Ingalls' Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) has dropped masking requirements for its 25,000 workers based on new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

NNS announced that vaccinated and unvaccinated workers will no longer be required to wear masks within its properties, with the exeption of its clinic.

The decision to drop masking requirement at NNS - one of the establishments that was adversely impacted by COVID-19 cases during the peaks of the pandemic - follows new guidance by CDC that allows areas with low to medium threats to drop the masks. Ultimately, this means that 70 percent of the U.S. can drop masks in most situations.

The statement added that although the company recognizes that cases are low and policies are therefore relaxing, COVID-19 is still a threat to the shipyard and its community. “If we should see an increase in cases or a shift in our community transmission level, our policies will be assessed and revised as necessary,” it noted.

The huge number of employees at NNS and the challenges of social distancing in a shipyard environment meant that NNS felt the brunt of the pandemic, with periods of high infection rates. Between the beginning of July and end of August last year, during the Delta wave, NNS saw infection rates rise from three cases in a week to 115 cases.

“These COVID-19 policy changes are welcome news, and we ask that you continue to make health-conscious decisions and protect yourself and others. Our continued vigilance will keep our COVID-19 cases low,” said the company.

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, the facility continued operations through the pandemic, even as other businesses closed due to the risk of COVID-19.

According to the Congressional Research Service's most recent review of Navy force structure and shipbuilding, COVID-19 has impeded the execution of shipbuilding programs, adding to existing challenges of capacity constraints.