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Amid safety concerns, EB so far avoids mass illnesses

As Connecticut shut down one after another sector of commerce, schooling, recreation and public life in the face of the oncoming coronavirus pandemic, there was a lot of educated guesswork about how to "flatten the curve." Individual responsibility was an obvious necessity, but complicated and confusing. For example: Wear a mask? No; yes. What is an essential industry and who is an essential worker? The answers rolled out in sequence, usually by defining what was not essential and closing it down.

The race to speedily remove people from harm's path soon became a pragmatic exercise with the highest of stakes. Death by lack of basic necessities has the same outcome as death by virus. It was clear that some workers' service met the definition of essential; medical personnel, obviously, and those who produced and delivered consumer goods. Other areas were grey, and indeed some were differently interpreted by governors in different states — including manufacturing.

Connecticut did not close manufacturing across the board. Many of the state's largest manufacturers have the Department of Defense as their customer, and the Pentagon let it be seen that military affairs and contracts would not be stalled. Electric Boat, the Groton-based submarine builder that employs more than 12,000 people living in and around New London County, stayed open. On the first weekend in April, EB President Kevin Graney announced that he had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and by Sunday the submarine builder had 10 confirmed cases.

That set off alarms for many employees and their families, and for The Day, which noted in an editorial a few days later that preventive protocols were starting weeks too late. No one could say with certainty how easily the novel coronavirus was passed along, how long it would take to sicken someone, or how many people might unknowingly have it. Testing was woefully inadequate and would be for weeks. EB nonetheless gambled that safety precautions would prevent an internal epidemic, and they appear to have worked, at least so far.

The Day would still counsel erring on the side of caution because lives are not expendable and toughing it out does not always work; the story of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt starkly shows that. The Pentagon should be more reasonable with its deadlines and expectations. But to the credit of EB managers, unions and employees, coordination and cooperation with guidelines kept the workforce employed and mitigated the serious economic impact of job losses in the region. And they were able to deliver the nuclear-powered attack submarine Vermont (SSN 792) to the U.S. Navy in the middle of it.

As Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, notes in a guest opinion article published today, the opening up of small and mid-sized businesses, which starts Wednesday, can benefit from the methods used by the state's largest manufacturers. One of those is wise management; another is compliance with the state's directives; and a third is cooperation by employees and customers. Get back to work, but do it safely.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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