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Boeing will temporarily shut down airplane production at its plant in Renton (pictured) and in Everett. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

In the wake of the first reported death of an employee in Puget Sound due to COVID-19, Boeing announced today that it’s begun the process of shutting down production operations at its facilities in the Seattle area.

A 14-day suspension is due to begin on Wednesday, Boeing said in a news release. The suspension will also apply to maintenance activities at Moses Lake, Wash., where more than 250 grounded 737 MAX planes are parked.

The company said the suspension would provide an opportunity to assess the impact of the “accelerating spread of the coronavirus in the region.”

“This necessary step protects our employees and the communities where they work and live,” Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun said. “We continue to work closely with public health officials, and we’re in contact with our customers, suppliers and other stakeholders who are affected by this temporary suspension.”

The suspension affects assembly operations in Everett, Wash., where Boeing produces wide-body planes such as the 747, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner; and in Renton, where single-aisle planes such as the 737 are produced. Boeing said critical distribution operations in support of the company’s customers would continue.

Operations at Boeing’s 787 factory in South Carolina are not affected by the suspension – but Stan Deal, the president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said those operations would continue to be monitored “with the working environment and safety first and foremost.”

On Sunday, social media reports indicated that an inspector at the Everett plant died after struggling with a coronavirus infection. When asked about the case, Boeing spokesman Bernard Choi told GeekWire that the company was working to verify the reports while protecting the privacy of the employee and the employee’s family.

Choi said there were 32 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its more than 160,000 employees as of Monday.

“Please note that we do not know where these employees contracted the virus,” Choi told GeekWire in an email. “Of the 32, 25 of them are based in the Puget Sound area, where we have more than 70,000 employees.”

Last week, Everett city officials issued a stay-at-home order due to the outbreak, but exempted Boeing’s Everett plant as an essential business.

Here’s today’s news release from Boeing:

“Boeing announced a temporary suspension of production operations at its Puget Sound area facilities in light of the state of emergency in Washington state and the company’s continuous assessment of the accelerating spread of the coronavirus in the region. These actions are being taken to ensure the well-being of employees, their families and the local community, and will include an orderly shutdown consistent with the requirements of its customers.

“Boeing plans to begin reducing production activity today and projects the suspension of such operations to begin on Wednesday, March 25, at sites across the Puget Sound area. The suspension of production operations will last 14 days, during which Boeing will continue to monitor government guidance and actions on COVID-19 and its associated impacts on all company operations. During this time, we will be conducting additional deep cleaning activities at impacted sites and establishing rigorous criteria for return to work.

” ‘This necessary step protects our employees and the communities where they work and live,’ said Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun. ‘We continue to work closely with public health officials, and we’re in contact with our customers, suppliers and other stakeholders who are affected by this temporary suspension. We regret the difficulty this will cause them, as well as our employees, but it’s vital to maintain health and safety for all those who support our products and services, and to assist in the national effort to combat the spread of COVID-19,’ Calhoun added.

“Production employees should continue to report for their assigned shifts today and will receive guidance on their role in the suspension shutdown process.

“Puget Sound area-based employees who can work from home will continue to do so. Those who cannot work remotely will receive paid leave for the initial 10 working days of the suspension – double the company policy – which will provide coverage for the 14 calendar day suspension period.

” ‘We will keep our employees, customers and supply chain top of mind as we continue to assess the evolving situation,’ Calhoun said. ‘This is an unprecedented time for organizations and communities across the globe.’

“When the suspension is lifted, Boeing will take an orderly approach to restarting production with a focus on safety, quality and meeting customer commitments. This will be a key step to enabling the aerospace sector to bridge to recovery.

“Boeing is working to minimize this suspension’s impact on the company’s ability to deliver and support its defense and space programs, and ensure the readiness of our defense customers to perform their vital missions. Boeing will work closely with those customers in the coming days to develop plans that ensure customers are supported throughout this period. Critical distribution operations in support of airline, government, and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) customers will continue.

And here is an email sent to employees by Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes:

“This is a difficult time for all of us as we navigate the impacts caused by the novel coronavirus, and our thoughts continue to be with all the people affected. The situation continues to evolve daily, and we are working quickly with health authorities to take actions that best protect our people as the spread of the coronavirus accelerates in Washington state.

“Earlier today we announced a suspension of operations for our commercial airplanes facilities in Puget Sound and Moses Lake for 14 days, starting March 25. During this time, we will conduct deep cleaning activities at impacted sites and establish objective and rigorous criteria for return to work. These are essential steps in keeping with government efforts to help slow the spread of the coronavirus in our community and keep our people safe.

“For our teammates in a role that can work virtually from home, you will continue to do so.

“A small contingent will remain on our sites to continue essential work such as security and proper storage of finished airplanes.

“For most of our production teammates whose work cannot be done virtually, we will begin our suspension process today and complete it over the next few days. Washington state teammates who cannot work remotely will receive paid leave for the initial 10 business days of the suspension – double the company policy.

“Production managers will reach out to you before you depart work to share next steps, which will include time charging instructions and a check list explaining ways to stay in touch during the production suspension.

“All of this information can also be found on the company’s coronavirus website.

“In the next few days we will also continue to monitor the situation at our production facilities in South Carolina, with the working environment and safety first and foremost. We will also assess the impact on deliveries of necessary parts. We will take further action if needed.

“I know there are uncertainties ahead with our many of our customers in all parts of the world as they drastically reduce their flying and park their airplanes. The situation is dynamic and may be one of the toughest that we have faced in a generation. But one thing is clear, the heart of our company is our people. By taking action now and being ready to resume production on April 8 – we will come out of this in a position to continue meeting the needs of our customers, suppliers and partners with safety, quality and integrity at the forefront.

“Thanks for all you’re doing and for the support you’re giving each other.”

Update for 1:18 p.m. PT March 23: We’ve updated this report with Deal’s comments.

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