EVERETT — It’s been a challenging year at Naval Station Everett as COVID-19 has spread around the world.
That’s the assessment commanding officer Capt. Mike Davis gave last week during a virtual meeting.
Barracks have been turned into quarantine spaces for those who need a place to stay if they begin to show symptoms or come in contact with an infected person. Crew without the option to work from home have been split into two groups and alternate schedules.
“Some of it we can’t do from telework positions,” Davis said. “We can’t, unfortunately, remotely turn a wrench when necessary, so we do have to bring those kinds of workers on board.”
Davis gave an update on Naval Station Everett during an online meeting Tuesday hosted by Economic Alliance Snohomish County. Usually that organization puts together an annual event called State of the Station, at which the commanding officer talks about the past year. It was cancelled in April.
Besides the pandemic, Davis talked about ships at Naval Station Everett. Mayor Cassie Franklin attended the meeting. For years she’s advocated bringing more ships to the base, especially an aircraft carrier.
Naval Station Everett was built in 1995 and since then has had two aircraft carriers — the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Nimitz. The latter left for maintenance in 2015 and never returned.
Davis does not believe an aircraft carrier will come back to Everett, he said Tuesday. He has a couple of reasons.
Maintenance is essential for those kinds of ships, and Everett does not have the facility to complete the work. The vessels are nuclear-powered and require a strictly controlled environment.
To build a space like that would cost at least $500 million, Davis said, while those capabilities already exist in Bremerton.
“The Navy is not going to commit those kinds of resources to Everett just for a carrier,” he said.
When Everett did have a carrier, sailors were bused to Bremerton every day while ships were undergoing maintenance. That’s about four hours of commute time, as well as an eight- to 10-hour work day.
“There are people who do that, but to levy those types of demands on our sailors and on their families is a little bit challenging,” Davis said. “I personally believe I would rather have a lot of smaller ships here than a single big ship coming back to Everett. There’s some economic positivity to that, too.”
When a carrier goes on deployment, that means around 2,500 people leave all at once and no longer contribute to the economy. With several smaller ships, that number would be much less if one or two ships leave at the same time. Each destroyer has a crew of about 300.
“Our hope is that we will see some growth here in the near future, or at least get it announced,” he said.
Naval Station Everett is home to five Navy destroyers and two Coast Guard vessels. Three other ships have been assigned to the station while they undergo maintenance in Seattle and Portland. That way Naval Station Everett can support the sailors while they live in the region temporarily.
Two more ships, the USS John McCain and the USS John Paul Jones, are expected to join Naval Station Everett in a year or so. Those also may undergo maintenance once they arrive, Naval Station Everett spokesperson Kristin Ching said.
One Naval Station Everett ship, the USS Kidd, had a coronavirus outbreak while at sea in April. At least 80 people aboard the ship tested positive for the virus. It was the second Navy ship to have an outbreak, following the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt of San Diego, with a crew of almost 5,000.
The Kidd returned to Everett in September, flying the skull-and-crossbones flag as it pulled into Port Gardner.
On base, more than 500 people have used the barracks for isolation, but that does not mean they all had the virus, Ching said.
Naval Station Everett has four barracks buildings, with room for about 1,000 sailors. The number of people who actually live on base tends to fluctuate, Ching said.
One of the barracks was turned into a quarantine space early in the pandemic. Sailors who lived there have been set up with other accommodations.
Davis is trying to protect the base now more than ever, since Snohomish County and the rest of the country have seen record coronavirus case numbers the past couple of weeks. He’s implemented state safety guidelines as a foundation and added more.
On Tuesday, Gary Hauff of Economic Alliance Snohomish County asked how the community can help the naval station during the pandemic.
“I think what we can do to help military families and collectively help each other is to do everything in our power to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID,” Davis said. “What I really want is to stop the spread, to limit the current outbreak. I think the more we do that right now, the better off we will be in the long run.”