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Local businesses address pandemic

Times Observer graphic by Dave Ferry Betts Industries Director of Human Resources Ryan Betts rolled out their coronavirus response plan.

Local companies have responsibilities.

They have employees and families to consider.

They have to think about their customers, clients, and suppliers.

And, they have a responsibility to the greater community.

As COVID-19 spreads across the globe and throughout the United States, companies and organizations here in Warren County are doing the best they can.

“We officially rolled out our plan to our workforce today,” Betts Industries Director of Human Resources Ryan Betts said. “We felt like we had an obligation to protect our employees, their families, our business, and we had a role to play in the prevention of the spread of the disease.

“We spent about five hours this morning,” Betts said. There were meetings with the workers from all three shifts. “We wanted to make sure we had small group meetings.”

The company’s health and wellness coordinator, a certified nurse, was involved in the discussions to help bring home the issues.

“We’ve been communicating all this information,” Betts said. “We wanted to make sure. There’s a right way to wash your hands. Little things like that, we wanted to make sure we communicated.”

At the top of the list of is a stay-home policy.

“Stay-at-home-if-sick is a mandate… not optional,” Betts said. “Any employee who is displaying any symptoms that are similar to COVID-19 symptoms… if you think it’s probably a cold, stay home.”

“If you’ve been exposed, even if someone in your family has,” he said. “We don’t want to take any chances.”

There is no one taking employee temperatures, but supervisors are on the look-out for symptomatic employees.

“They are going to be keeping a close eye on them,” Betts said. “Some of the symptoms can come on pretty quickly.”

Worker that are sent home will be compensated.

“We were concerned about the financial impact,” he said. “We are paying 100 percent of the base wages for up to 14 days for anybody that is mandated to stay home.”

“Hopefully it’s two or three days and you realize it’s not” COVID-19, he said. “Everything’s case-by-case. If we have to do something more, we’ll do more.”

There are numerous other measures in place.

“We have kiosks in our shop, sanitizer, wipes, gloves, everything that they need to stay safe,” Betts said. “Business travel has been restricted for all Warren based employees. That includes our sales force.”

“We also have visitor restrictions,” he said. “Non-essential visitors will not be admitted. We locked the front door.”

“Everything that we’ve done so far is in effect through the end of March,” Betts said. “We’re monitoring daily. We have some processes in place to make sure that we are monitoring and reacting as we should. Our goal is to be make sure we are able to operate effectively.”

There are others who would like to be reassured of that.

“Our suppliers and vendors… we want to know they’re in good shape,” Betts said.

And he knows those companies are keeping an eye on Betts.

“The vast majority of our products and materials are produced in the United States,” he said. That helps mitigate any problems posed by disruptions to international travel and generally to widespread problems.

For materials and products that do come from foreign sources, “we maintain inventory levels to a minimum of 90 days,” Betts said. “We’re in good shape.”

Betts said his conversations with other local HR directors lead him to believe that many companies are on the same page.

“At Northwest, the health and safety of our customers, employees and the communities we serve is our top priority,” Northwest Executive Vice President Shawn Walker said.

“Members of our Business Continuity Planning (BCP) team are actively monitoring the coronavirus situation and have taken steps to test and address our pandemic response scenarios,” Walker said. “We have a plan in place that includes defined processes to manage business operations during such events, which includes among many other things, the most efficient ways to serve our customers and work-from-home procedures for our employees.”

Like Betts, Northwest is looking to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for guidance.

“We are continuously monitoring information from the CDC, WHO, and other governmental authorities (federal and state) and are reinforcing best health practices in all of our business offices and branches to protect our employees and customers,” Walker said. “As an alternative to branch banking, we are also encouraging customers to use Northwest’s online (digital) tools and other resources for self-service banking and 24/7 account access. As a Northwest customer, you can bank virtually anywhere, anytime through a wide array of channels — online and mobile banking, our telephone banking system, Bankline and depository ATMs. Customers can easily make payments, view transactions, check account balances, find an ATM and much more.”

Internally, prevention is the focus.

“We are currently relaying messages to our customers via our in-branch digital screens,” Walker said. “We’ve also built an coronavirus informational page on our website: https://www.northwest.bank/coronavirus-impact, emailed our customer base and instituted a social media campaign to provide daily information/updates and tips on how to prevent the spread of viruses.”

“Since cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are frequently touched is of utmost importance, all of our locations have been outfitted with all of the proper disinfecting and cleaning supplies,” he said. “We endorse a ‘clean as you go approach’ to help prevent the spread of illness. Employees clean their immediate work areas and high traffic areas with disinfectant wipes to be proactive. Hand sanitizer is also available to all employees and customers in order to help minimize the potential impact.”

“At this time, non-essential business travel, face-to-face group meetings where employees are traveling from different locations and centralizing in one location, and attendance at outside events has been prohibited,” Walker said. “To continue our daily operations and service our customers, we are utilizing technology, such as telephone and video conferencing, instead of face-to-face meetings during this prevention period.”

At the Rouse Home and Suites, visitors will not be admitted. Additional activities will be instituted to provide for the social needs of residents.

Electronic communication is encouraged.

Warren Electric Cooperative asked customers who feel ill or are particularly vulnerable to consider using the “night drop box instead of coming into the office” to pay their bills. “While we have no confirmed cases in our area, we want to help reduce the risk of spreading this disease.”

Tops has an Internal Crisis Management Team that has been working on COVID-19 preparedness since January. “You’ll find that this team, along with the direction of our senior management, has taken many steps to protect our customers and associates.”

Those steps include communications regarding proper sanitation, additional supplies — hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, and disinfectants — “to help combat the spread of germs”; increased cleaning cycles especially in commonly-used areas; and increased cleaning and sanitizing of food contact surfaces, pharmacy counters, restrooms, break rooms, and other public areas.

Pennsylvania American Water assures customers that its treatment processes include disinfection which is “effective in removing and/or inactivating viruses. Our water meets all current federal and state drinking water requirements.”

The company’s coronavirus preparedness plans include:

“Business continuity plans to help provide additional stability to our operations that include water/wastewater services to customer homes and businesses; a moratorium and discontinuation of service shut-offs to keep our customers safe during the coronavirus pandemic; the restoration of service to previously shut-off customers; and the suspension of all non-essential field appointments, which will limit the amount and nature of contact with customers during all emergency field appointments.”

Walmart has issued a corporate release.

“As the coronavirus situation continues to evolve, we know it is top of mind for our customers,” according to the release. “We see it in the items people are buying and hear it in the conversations we’re having in our stores. So we believe it’s important to share the steps we are taking to keep our people safe and our facilities clean.”

“First and foremost, we are taking preventive measures to keep our stores clean and maintain a healthy environment. Stores are cleaned daily, which includes using sanitizing solutions in high-touch, high-traffic areas. We have increased associate focus on cleaning and have dedicated an associate to maintain key areas throughout the day. We’ve seen increased foot traffic, so we’re sending additional cleaning supplies for use in places like the registers and on shopping carts.”

“Looking forward, we are pursuing easier ways to sanitize shopping carts. We also have plans in place for third-party sanitization should it be needed for a store impacted by the virus. And we are evaluating whether to modify store hours at some 24-hour facilities to allow for additional cleaning.”

“Second, we will work to keep our stores stocked and prices fair. As one would expect, paper products, cleaning supplies and other items are in high demand as customers prepare for the possible impact of COVID-19. We are working to replenish those items quickly, including diverting products to areas of the country where they are needed most and routing deliveries directly to stores.”

“Third, as the largest employer in the country, we take the health of our associates seriously. As we’ve said before, we want any associate who is not feeling well to stay home. We shared with our associates details of a new policy that gives them additional flexibility to stay home if they are not feeling well, and pay options and support if they are affected by the virus.”

“Finally, we want to remind our customers there are many great ways to shop at Walmart, including pickup and Walmart.com. Many of you are already taking advantage of these services. If you’re not, this could be a good time to try online delivery or our store pickup options or to use the Walmart Pay feature of our app when paying at the register.”

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