Monday, April 20, 2020

Coronavirus update 4-20-2020: What a business operating in the time of coronavirus CANNOT look like

On Friday I shared my thoughts on the measures businesses absolutely must take as a condition to reopening when governors restart their economies.

Today, I am sharing the consequences that will happen if states and businesses get this wrong.

NPR reports on the Smithfield Foods pork processing plant in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which has become a hot spot of coronavirus transmission. That facility has seen 634 of its 3,700 total employees positive. Sadly, the first employee recently died.

How did nearly 20 percent of this company’s employees become infected? NPR has a pretty clear answer.

We understand from firsthand employee accounts that they were not provided any protective gear. They were not given any hand sanitizer. There was no social distancing occurring on the lines from at least before March 26, to when some measures like taking temperatures outside of the plant before employees had to come in, took place on Monday, April 6. … 
We’ve heard from employees that they consider themselves to be inches apart. That lunchrooms held 500 employees at a time. And that was still occurring until mitigation efforts were being taken the week of April 6.

It’s not just Smithfield Foods. PBS News Hour reports that four Tyson Foods employees connected to its chicken processing plant in Camilla, Georgia, have died from coronavirus.

These are two stories of the thousands that are playing out in businesses all over America. The consequences are dire if we get this issue wrong. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of Smithfield Foods.

Indeed, I am very worried that we are restarting the economy too soon. For example, how will employers gather enough masks for employees to cover their faces or thermometers to checks employees’ temperatures (both of which are in very short supply)? Researchers at Harvard conclude that it is not safe to reopen the economy unless we can perform at least 500,000 tests per day (a 350,000 per day increase over current capacity). If someone wants to explain how we are doing to increase testing capacity by 233% in less than two weeks, I’m all ears.

Thursday morning at 9 am, I’ll be on WCPN’s The Sound of Ideas discussing the issues workplaces must consider before calling employees back to work. You can listen here.

* Photo by Museums Victoria on Unsplash