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NEWS | March 17, 2021

Command learns, adapts during pandemic: Effort to protect workforce, meet mission continues year after worldwide pandemic declared

By Max Maxfield, PSNS & IMF Public Affairs Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility

As the workers and leaders from Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate Maintenance Facility rang in the New Year the evening of Dec. 31, 2019, they had no idea of the tremendous personal and professional challenges that lay ahead for everyone in 2020.

What started with an announcement from the World Health Organization, Jan. 9, 2020, of a new Coronavirus-related pneumonia discovered in China, resulted in more than 20 million Americans being infected from SARS-CoV-2 by Dec. 31, 2020. To date, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 500,000 Americans and more than 1.8 million people worldwide.

The WHO officially declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic March 11, 2020, and a national emergency was declared in the U.S. two days later. PSNS & IMF leadership quickly adjusted operations and authorized shops and codes throughout the command to begin finding ways to minimize the spread of COVID-19 infection to the workforce, while maximizing mission accomplishment.

As PSNS & IMF marks the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, the command looks back on all that has been accomplished in the past year to keep its workforce safe and continue its mission to support the operational Navy.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been a full year since the pandemic began,” said Capt. Jip Mosman, commander, PSNS & IMF. “But when you reflect on the tremendous efforts our shipyard community has made in the past 12 months, to keep business going as normal while staying safe, it’s amazing to see how much the members of this command have accomplished in a relatively short period of time.”

To begin, employees from Shop 06, Tooling and Logistics; and Code 500, Supply and Logistics, volunteered to work throughout the weekend of March 14-15, 2020, to put more than 2,000 cleaning kits together to use around the command in an effort to amplify sanitation efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The cleaning kits, which contained disinfecting cleaning solution, wipes, gloves and instructions, were distributed to projects and building managers throughout the shipyard, to include PSNS & IMF’s detachments at Bangor and Everett.

To help protect the PSNS & IMF workforce, as well as community partners and members of other Navy commands who work at the shipyard, the command put individuals at higher risk for complications based on CDC guidance on administrative leave. These personnel stayed home for 2.5 months, while the command was able to set up procedures and protective measures for the shipyard.

The command had 2,000 individuals teleworking almost immediately, and spread the workforce out over multiple shifts. PSNS & IMF went from no telework policy to 3,000 people on telework.

PSNS & IMF stopped all non-mission essential travel March 16, 2020, to include training and conferences that did not directly support the PSNS & IMF mission of maintaining, modernizing and retiring the Navy’s fleet. All individuals returning from high-risk locations, based on CDC and State Department guidance, had to self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

PSNS & IMF’s accredited laboratory began producing isopropyl alcohol-based hand sanitizer March 18, 2020, which was distributed to employees in pocket-sized bottles and was used to stand up hand sanitizing stations inside the gates entering the Controlled Industrial Area. The PSNS & IMF lab eventually produced 965 gallons of hand sanitizer as a stop-gap measure until commercially-produced hand sanitizer was again available through the supply chain.

Fabric workers in Shop 64, Sail Loft, began making cloth masks March 24, 2020, for use by the PSNS & IMF workforce, and that could potentially be donated to the local medical community if officially requested. Workers from Shop 17, Sheetmetal Shop, programmed a laser cutter to produce hundreds of bendable aluminum nose pieces.

Workers in Shop 31, Toolmakers Shop, designed and 3D-printed plastic face shields, similar to those used by medical professionals. One group programmed a laser engraver to begin cutting out the 1 mm thick polycarbonate face shields. While the second group began using 3D printers to make the head pieces.

PSNS & IMF leaders and union partners began handing out reusable, cloth facemasks to all shipyard employees April 14, 2020. Workers with Shop 64, Sail Loft, along with other shops, codes, and Sailors from Naval Base Kitsap, USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), USS Olympia (SSN 717) and USS Louisville (SSN 724) all stepped forward to help ramp up production to about 4,000 masks a day.

Also, in response to an April 9, 2020, request from Bremerton’s Harrison Medical Center, 500 cloth face masks and 120 manufactured plastic shields were provided to the community in support of first responders.

Additionally, pre-cut, patterned materials and instructions, were provided to volunteers who had access to a sewing machine in order to produce masks quickly and efficiently in batches of 30. Eventually, more than 120,000 masks were made, including 18,400 by 140 teammates working at home.

Fabric workers with Shop 64, Sail Loft, and sewers with the “Home Team” were able to refine open-source designs and produce see-through masks for use by deaf or hard of hearing PSNS & IMF employees, and those they needed to communicate with.

Workers with the Component Repair and Fabrication crew at the PSNS & IMF Moonshine Lab unveiled three standard options for clear barriers April 24, 2020, that allowed service providers throughout the command to stand closer to their customers, which enhanced service while eliminating the need to completely reconfigure some settings.

As of May 8, 2020, PSNS & IMF produced and provided 450 face shields to Harrison Medical Center; 600 face shields to Commander, Naval Surface Forces, in San Diego; and 500 face shields to Submarine Forces Pacific, in Hawaii. Over the past year, PSNS & IMF provided more than 16,000 pieces of PPE (masks, sanitizer and face shields) to support medical workers in the community.

When PSNS & IMF received a request from Naval Sea Systems Command in early May 2020 to develop a prototype biocontainment system that could be used to facilitate COVID-19 testing aboard U.S. Navy vessels, workers with Shop 64, Sail Loft; and Code 2370.27, Refueling Containments Branch, worked together to design and build two prototypes within a few days of receiving the request.

A prototype underwent ship checks in San Diego, before the design was finalized. PSNS & IMF production teams eventually provided 30 units to ships and commands.

A team of woodcrafters from Shop 64 built 12 hand-washing stations for distribution and use across the shipyard. The new plumbed handwashing station each have two bays with a pedal-activated sink and an electric hand-dryer in each bay. The sinks are similar to those in permanent restrooms. When users press the foot pedal, warm water flows through the faucet for as long as needed. Unlike the self-contained units, there is no need to pump the pedal to receive a squirt of cold water.

PSNS & IMF completed installing stand-alone infrared body temperature detectors at all gates into the controlled industrial area this week in late August 2020. The stand-alone detectors sped up the temperature screening process at each gate and eliminated the need for PSNS & IMF workers to use hand-held thermometers, which gate screeners had been using to check the temperature of all people entering the Controlled Industrial Area since May 6.

A team of innovators from PSNS & IMF partnered with other technical organizations and joined the Naval Coronavirus Rapid Response Team to design and build two handheld ultraviolet-C LED disinfecting prototype devices that are currently being tested to determine how effective they are at killing COVID-19 on surfaces.

One unit went to San Diego to support the USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Planned Incremental Availability, and was used to sanitize surfaces on a job with a high risk of viral transmission.

The second unit was shipped to the Naval Research Laboratory and the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Dahlgren for further validation and testing, to determine if it will be used as a fleet-wide solution.

PSNS & IMF personnel received the first-of-two Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shots Feb. 10, 2021, in the former Sam Adams Brewhouse on Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, at the start of a phased employee vaccination process. The PSNS & IMF vaccine recipients were all Radiological Emergency Response Organization responders or employees 75 years and older who comprise the initial part of Phase 1 of the command’s four-phase vaccination plan.

From the assembly and distribution of the first cleaning kits a year ago, to the ongoing effort to vaccinate every employee who would like to receive the shot, PSNS & IMF has used both administrative controls and has capitalized on the drive and talent of the workforce, to find ways to maximize the PSNS & IMF mission of maintaining, modernizing and retiring the Navy’s fleet, while minimizing the spread of COVID-19 throughout the command, the local community and the Navy.

“I’m so proud to be leading a command that has overcome the challenges of the pandemic as well as we have,” said Mosman. “Every day I’m impressed by the tireless work ethic I see in all shops and codes to look out for each other while also accomplishing the mission. I’m looking forward to a safer and healthier 2021, as we continue to take a stance against this virus.”