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)

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

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Business

Szabella Psaztor is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Szabella Pasztor: Change begins at a grassroots level

As development director at Farmer Frog, Pasztor supports social justice, equity and community empowerment.

Owner and founder of Moe's Coffee in Arlington Kaitlyn Davis poses for a photo at the Everett Herald on March 22, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Kaitlyn Davis: Bringing economic vitality to Arlington

More than just coffee, Davis has created community gathering spaces where all can feel welcome.

Simreet Dhaliwal is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Simreet Dhaliwal: A deep-seated commitment to justice

The Snohomish County tourism and economic specialist is determined to steer change and make a meaningful impact.

Emerging Leader John Michael Graves. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
John Michael Graves: Champion for diversity and inclusion

Graves leads training sessions on Israel, Jewish history and the Holocaust and identifying antisemitic hate crimes.

Gracelynn Shibayama, the events coordinator at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Gracelynn Shibayama: Connecting people through the arts and culture

The Edmonds Center for the Arts coordinator strives to create a more connected and empathetic community.

Eric Jimenez, a supervisor at Cocoon House, is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Eric Jimenez: Team player and advocate for youth

As an advocate for the Latino community, sharing and preserving its traditions is central to Jimenez’ identity.

Nathanael Engen, founder of Black Forest Mushrooms, an Everett gourmet mushroom growing operation is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Nathanael Engen: Growing and sharing gourmet mushrooms

More than just providing nutritious food, the owner of Black Forest Mushrooms aims to uplift and educate the community.

Molbak's Garden + Home in Woodinville, Washington closed on Jan. 28 2024. (Photo courtesy of Molbak's)
Molbak’s, former Woodinville garden store, hopes for a comeback

Molbak’s wants to create a “hub” for retailers and community groups at its former Woodinville store. But first it must raise $2.5 million.

DJ Lockwood, a Unit Director at the Arlington Boys & Girls Club, is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
DJ Lockwood: Helping the community care for its kids

As director of the Arlington Boys & Girls Club, Lockwood has extended the club’s programs to more locations and more kids.

Alex Tadio, the admissions director at WSU Everett, is an Emerging Leader. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Alex Tadio: A passion for education and equality

As admissions director at WSU Everett, he hopes to give more local students the chance to attend college.

Dr. Baljinder Gill and Lavleen Samra-Gill are the recipients of a new Emerging Business award. Together they run Symmetria Integrative Medical. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Emerging Business: The new category honors Symmetria Integrative Medical

Run by a husband and wife team, the chiropractic and rehabilitation clinic has locations in Arlington, Marysville and Lake Stevens.

People walk along the waterfront in front of South Fork Bakery at the Port of Everett on Thursday, April 11, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Port of Everett inks deal with longtime Bothell restaurant

The port will break ground on two new buildings this summer. Slated for completion next year, Alexa’s Cafe will open in one of them.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.