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Electric Boat grapples with how to keep workers safe amid COVID-19 outbreak

With Gov. Ned Lamont on Friday ordering all "nonessential" workers in the state to stay home in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, Electric Boat, deemed an essential business given its role building submarines in support of national defense, has been grappling with how to keep its employees safe at work.

This past week, EB employees reached out to The Day expressing concern with how the company has responded to the outbreak, including slow communication and technological issues barring a lot of employees from working from home, as well as issues getting approval from supervisors to do so, and being required to come to work in tight quarters that don't allow for social distancing and other guidelines issued by state and federal health officials.

As of Friday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of the coronavirus involving EB employees, President Kevin Graney said in a companywide memo.

Graney outlined a number of steps the company is taking internally to try to protect employees, such as staggering lunchtime in the Groton cafeteria during first shift, increased cleaning of "high traffic" areas, terminating large "all hands" meetings, and adding a second shift at the company's New London facility.

He also encouraged supervisors to allow employees to work flexible schedules, including different hours than normal and on weekends, to spread out the number of employees working in the same space, where possible.

Graney announced Friday that all employees, salary and hourly, will be allowed to accrue up to eighty hours of "negative" paid time off to be recouped by the end of the year to help accommodate those who have children home from school and related schedule disruptions.

He also advised employees who feel sick or had contact with an infected individual to stay home.

In a letter sent to Graney this week, Assistant Secretary of the Navy James Geurts said he wanted "to emphasize the importance of employee health and safety as well as reemphasize the importance of the ship construction and repair efforts you and your suppliers perform to national defense."

"Delivering or redelivering our ships to the fleet is a national need that is unwavering and crucial to our national security," Geurts said.

Lamont also deemed EB and its suppliers, including those engaged in its major expansion project on the Groton waterfront, essential during his daily update Friday.

Graney said he spoke with Lamont on Friday afternoon and he "fully supports the measures we are taking to protect our employees while continuing operations."

Separately on Friday, Rear Adm. Charles Rock, who oversees Navy installations in the Mid-Atlantic region, including the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, said the outbreak of the virus thus far was not impacting the Navy's ability to carry out its mission.

At Navy installations throughought the Mid-Atlantic, only essential personnel were required to show up to work, and those who can work from home are being allowed to do so. Fitness classes, intramural sports and large gatherings, including graduation ceremonies, are canceled for the time being, Rock said. The Navy still is determining whether to hold commissioning ceremonies for its ships, he said. Access to the installations under his command has remained unchanged, he said.

The Department of Defense has restricted both personal and work travel for military members, including Navy personnel.

The Navy also has set up a system to handle individuals who come down with symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus or who are exposed to someone who has contracted the virus, requiring a 14-day quarantine. Those who are living in Navy barracks, for example, and come down with symptoms are being relocated to separate them from other sailors, Rock said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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