Boeing workers walk outside of Boeing’s Everett assembly plant on April 21 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Boeing workers walk outside of Boeing’s Everett assembly plant on April 21 in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Purchase Photo

Boeing: Newly confirmed virus in Everett workforce is no risk

The 2 employees stayed home after falling ill in mid-March. Their test results just came through.

By Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times

According to Boeing’s latest update to its daily internal listing of the company’s COVID-19 cases, two Everett employees were confirmed as positive for the novel coronavirus on Tuesday — the day thousands of workers on the 747, 767 and 777 jet programs returned to work at the factory.

Understandably, some among the Everett workforce were alarmed at the possibility of new infections, starkly illustrating the continuing challenge Boeing faces in tamping down fear of coronavirus contagion as its employees return to work.

However, Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Kowal said Thursday both of those infected employees had fallen ill in mid-March — before the four-week factory shutdown that began March 25 — and stayed home after becoming sick. At that time testing wasn’t widely available, and their results came through only this week.

Furthermore, she said, both employees have recovered and have been cleared to return to work.

The company data states that during the period when these two employees may have been infectious, they worked in the bays where the 767 and 777X jets are built.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they were infected at the Boeing plant; the virus was widespread in the Snohomish County community in mid-March and they could have picked it up outside the factory. It does mean they could have spread it while at work before the shutdown.

As in all such cases, when someone reports a positive test result, Boeing Health Services interviews the person for contact tracing and notifies other employees who worked in close proximity to the infected person.

Those employees are then sent home for quarantine, many of them returning after 14 days without having gotten sick.

Posting all the details

Boeing has been more transparent with employees than most companies, posting its updated list of confirmed cases among the workforce on its internal website each day.

While this data is provided as a means of assuring workers the facts are known, with the virus still uncontained, it can also stoke worry.

The list obtained by The Seattle Times was updated Thursday and provides the data on all cases as of April 22.

It tallies a total of 212 COVID-19 cases confirmed at all Boeing locations since the first four positive tests, all in Everett, came back on March 9. Of those, only 56 are still active cases.

In Washington state, 142 employees have been confirmed infected.

One employee died last month from the disease — quality inspector 57-year-old Elton Washington died on March 22, just before the four-week shutdown — while more than 100 have recovered and been cleared to return to work.

Boeing says only 35 of the Washington state COVID-19 cases are still active.

Without identifying any of the employees, the list states where each worked, on which date Boeing was informed of the positive test and which building the person worked in during the period when they may have been infectious.

Many of the cases, 65 out of the 212, are listed as “working offsite,” indicating that the person was not in the workplace when infectious. Boeing began in March encouraging those employees who could work from home to do so. Most of those listed as working offsite when infected tested positive this month.

Of the 142 confirmed COVID-19 cases among Washington state employees, 84 worked in Everett; 26 in Renton; 13 in Seattle or Tukwila; eight in Auburn; five in Moses Lake; and six at other sites.

Among Boeing sites elsewhere in the country, the Boeing plant in St. Louis, Mo., had 15 cases; the site in North Charleston, South Carolina, had eight; and the military helicopter plant at Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, had eight.

Fed by word of the new COVID-19 cases reported this week, private Boeing employee Facebook groups on Thursday featured concerned discussion of a few workers being sent home sick in the first two days of the return to work — implying that the coronavirus might immediately have returned to the newly cleaned factory.

Asked to respond to this, spokeswoman Kowal said it’s not significant if someone among a large workforce goes home sick on any given day, and that in the current pandemic anyone suspected with any symptoms is expected to do so.

“Boeing is asking employees to perform a daily self-wellbeing check to monitor for symptoms,” she said in an emailed statement. “If an employee feels ill at work, they should go home.”

As the specter of the coronavirus persists, Boeing may have to brace for the impact on employee morale of future positive cases.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Barre3 owner Gina Drake leads an exercise class in the Red Barn at 5th Ave S and Maple Street on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2020 in Edmonds, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Barre3 teaches a fitness trifecta for balance during COVID-19

The full-body workouts combine strength conditioning, cardio and mindfulness to help you feel balanced.

An access road leads into plot of land located in north Darrington that could potentially be used to build a 30-acre Wood Innovation Center, which will house CLT manufacturing and modular building companies on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021 in Darrington, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
$6 million grant is green light for Darrington timber center

The Darrington Wood Innovation Center is set to become a reality — bringing roughly 150 jobs with it.

Boeing 777 makes emergency landing in Moscow

The plane landed safely and no one was injured.

FILE- In this Oct. 19, 2015, file photo, an airplane flies over a sign at Boeing's newly expanded 737 delivery center at Boeing Field in Seattle. Federal regulators have imposed $5.4 million in civil penalties against Boeing on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, for violating terms of a $12 million settlement in 2015, and the aircraft maker has agreed to pay another $1.21 million to settle two current enforcement cases. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing will pay $6.6 million to settle FAA allegations

The company failed to put adequate priority on complying with regulations.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, file photo, a United Airlines Boeing 737 Max airplane takes off in the rain, at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Wash. Federal auditors are issuing fresh criticism of the government agency that approved the Boeing 737 Max. The Transportation Department's inspector general said Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, that the Federal Aviation Administration must improve its process for certifying new planes.  (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Federal watchdog blasts FAA over certification of Boeing jet

It will take five years to finish making the Transportation Department’s 14 recommended changes.

Hamburger cheese with beef, salad, tomato and ham isolated on white background.
You voted: The best hamburger in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, people still have their favorites.

Boeing’s decorated 787 Dreamliner on display at a celebration for the Boeing Employees Community Fund last year at the Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center in Mukilteo. (Janice Podsada / Herald file)
Boeing’s deepening 787 inspections risk longer delays

The company will use freed-up space in Everett to inspect and repair the plane’s tiny imperfections.

In this image taken from video, the engine of United Airlines Flight 328 is on fire after after experiencing "a right-engine failure" shortly after takeoff from Denver International Airport, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, in Denver, Colo. The Boeing 777 landed safely and none of the passengers or crew onboard were hurt. (Chad Schnell via AP)
Metal fatigue seen as trigger for Boeing 777 engine failure

A preliminary investigation suggested a crack that grew gradually over time prompted the failure.

Boeing 757 flying to Seattle makes emergency landing

The 16-year-old jetliner was powered by Pratt & Whitney engines.

This Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 photo provided by Hayden Smith shows United Airlines Flight 328 approaching Denver International Airport, after experiencing "a right-engine failure" shortly after takeoff from Denver. Federal regulators are investigating what caused a catastrophic engine failure on the plane that rained debris on Denver suburbs as the aircraft made an emergency landing. Authorities said nobody aboard or on the ground was hurt despite large pieces of the engine casing that narrowly missed homes below. (Hayden Smith via AP)
Boeing: 777s with engine that blew apart should be grounded

Video showed the engine fully engulfed in flames as the plane flew through the air.

A portion of the site of the proposed Lake Stevens Costco at the intersection of Highway 9 (right) and South Lake Stevens Road (below, out of view). (Chuck Taylor / Herald file)
Legal battle stalls Costco’s planned store in Lake Stevens

“We intend to keep them in court until they get tired of us and go away,” an opponent of the project said.

FILE - In this Jan. 25, 2020, file photo a Boeing 777X airplane takes off on its first flight with the Olympic Mountains in the background at Paine Field in Everett, Wash. Boeing is reporting another huge loss, this one because of a setback to its 777X widebody jetliner. Boeing said Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, it lost $8.4 billion in the fourth quarter on weaker demand for planes during the pandemic. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Boeing says 2 directors are leaving as board faces scrutiny

Arthur Collins Jr. and Susan Schwab won’t stand for reelection at the shareholder meeting in April.