Picketers acknowledge a honking motorist outside an entrance to Bath Iron Works, Monday, June 22, 2020, in Bath, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

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A coronavirus outbreak investigation has been opened at Bath Iron Works after three cases believed to be connected to ongoing strikes were discovered, state health officials said Monday.

All three individuals “participated in outdoor union activities,” referring to an ongoing strike from Machinists Union Local S6, the shipyard’s biggest union over a contract dispute, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said. An outbreak investigation is typically opened when a number of linked cases are discovered.

Two of the people worked in the same department and all three carpooled together, Shah said. They worked in the facility until June 18 or 19, he said.

The strike entered its second week this week after the union rejected a three-year contract offer from BIW that included a 3 percent annual rise but increased insurance copays and had provisions on hiring subcontractors and seniority that union members said was unacceptable. The shipyard employs over 6,000 people.

Overall, six people connected to the shipyard have tested positive, said BIW spokesperson David Hench. One of the three cases is the same person who was confirmed to have tested positive last Thursday. That person had last been at work on June 18, while the other two were last there on June 19, he said.

The state is offering testing to 53 people that BIW has determined may have interacted with the individuals first before deciding whether more widespread testing is necessary, Shah said. He said department-by-department testing may be challenging because employees from different departments often interact.

A memo to employees asked anyone who had engaged in rallies in the main yard during the week of June 15 or participated in a picket line last week on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday to get tested. Anyone who worked in the combat information center on the future USS Carl M. Levin destroyer during the week of June 15 is also encouraged to get tested.

Hench said all employees have been given thermometers and are encouraged to stay home if they have a fever. 

Workplace outbreaks have become common during the pandemic. An outbreak at Tyson Foods reached over 50 cases, and an outbreak at Abbott Laboratories was announced in early June after 23 cases had been sporadically detected since mid-April.