By Diane M. Calabrese / Published August 2020
The world looked a lot different on January 1, 2020, than it did on March 1, 2020. As the new year began, manufacturers and contractors were still readying for a spring season in a strong economy. (Some manufacturers with strong ties to Asia and Europe, especially Italy, were receiving enough information about the emerging pandemic to realize there was cause for concern.)
As we write in early June, there is nothing about COVID-19—its origin, its mortality rate, its demographic targets, and its mode of transmission, that is not the subject of intense study and even debate. The trajectory of the virus in the future will be modeled, but data collected in real time will ultimately reveal how everything unfolds. Those looking back from January 1, 2030, will have a much better understanding of all that is happening.
In the months that we have been learning to live with COVID-19 in the mix of communicable diseases, each of us has also learned from the experience. Here we consider the lessons learned by manufacturers and contractors. (Note: A separate article considers lessons learned by distributors.)
“I think we all learned about the importance of cleaning and hygiene,” says Richard “Bo” Bodo, director of training at Kärcher North America in Denver, CO. “Before COVID-19, the cleaning of a facility was something of an afterthought. We knew it needed to be done, but we never really gave it much thought.”
That’s all changed. “Today, cleaning and disinfection are top-of-mind for most everyone,” says Bodo.
And it’s not just clean and disinfect, but the distinction between the two. “Another concept born out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the understanding that while cleaning and disinfection need to be separate steps, they must be paired together,” says Bodo.
“The cleaning step is not enough to accomplish the microbial reduction needed to achieve disinfection, and disinfection cannot truly happen without cleaning,” explains Bodo. “If a surface is not properly cleaned first using a detergent to remove unwanted matter, the soils left behind inhibit the disinfection process. This is going to be a key takeaway as we move forward.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, there was a challenge shared by all: getting accurate information. “The biggest challenge from a communications standpoint was making sure that everyone had correct, verifiable, and accurate information to make decisions on,” says Bodo. “When the pandemic began, and even in the days since it began, there has been quite a bit of misinformation floating around, which can lead to issues with creating a safe space for people to live, work, heal, and study in.
“To address this, I made certain that the information my company presented to our customers came from trusted sites such as EPA, OSHA, CDC, National Institutes for Health, and peer-reviewed studies,” continues Bodo. “When it came to cleaning practices that were not addressed by these bodies, we relied on industry best practices.”
Many lessons have been not so much learned anew as recalled and reinforced by the pandemic. Manufacturers that depend on distant providers of raw materials or parts always knew that disruption of their supply chain could be a problem exacerbated by distance.
Pre-pandemic it was not unreasonable to assume that even if the chain were broken, an easy workaround could be established quickly. If a bridge were washed out, a truck could take a different route. If a parts supplier closed because of a fire, another parts supplier could be located. If a consultant hired for design or IT upgrades could not take one flight, he or she could take another.
Perhaps except for those business owners who keep the potential for nuclear war in the back of their mind, no one really considered the large-scale and global shutdown of commerce, industry, and travel that occurred because of the pandemic. Alternatives literally became impossible to identify. The only immediate solution to the problem was to reconfigure processes while searching for alternatives and awaiting the reopening of business partners.
Manufacturers also know the significance of having a strong relationship with a bank and the importance of having a line of credit, even when it is not needed. An existing relationship with a bank eased access to federal funds to assist businesses during the shutdown.
We do not want to review here the intricacies of the various federal loan and grant programs tied to COVID-19, but companies that could go to a bank that knew them—and knew their business financials—had an edge in speeding the processing requirements. (Contractors with a strong, ongoing relationship with a bank had the same advantage.)
Again, getting access to emergency funds generally goes more smoothly for companies that already have a banking partner. Manufacturers, especially, and some larger contractors have in the past tapped funds following natural disasters. So this, too, is a lesson reinforced.
Following best practices has long been the philosophy that guides our industry. Consequently, accessing and following best practices as they emerged, as Bodo recommends, was a familiar path to take. Information from sources he mentions in the first section keeps coming with refinements.
As we write, there are two online primers from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that stand out as particularly useful in conciseness and comprehensiveness. Guidance for the workplace is part of a broader document (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/workplace-school-
and-home-guidance.pdf). The good hygiene reminders regarding hand washing and cleaning surfaces are well known to all by now. The reminder about good ventilation, however, deserves emphasis.
Manufacturers know the importance of excellent ventilation to protect workers from processing chemicals and byproducts. Increasingly, epidemiologists are looking at the way poor ventilation increases risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Power washing contractors generally work at a distance from others, and if outdoors, poor ventilation is not a concern. For contractors, the biggest reminder might be to avoid complacency. Staying home if one is feeling ill, even if one generally works in isolation, is still important.
Resuming Business Toolkit, a CDC document made available in May (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/resuming-business-toolkit.html) provides detailed checklists for restarting safely. Detailed is the operative word, but it’s a good starting point for manufacturers and distributors developing their own plans.
Manufacturers are among the businesses that must bring a certain number of employees together at one site to function. The toolkit will serve as a resource for them as they aim to document their procedures in a way that reduces (or eliminates) liability if an employee becomes infected with COVID-19. (Unfortunately, another lesson reinforced by the pandemic is that this is a litigious society.)
Manufacturers and contractors both must deal with the fatigue and frustration among their employees and customers. Employees do not find it easy to wear masks, especially in hot weather. The frequency of disinfecting begins to seem over the top (as do masks to some). The psychology of living with the reality of the ongoing pandemic begins to threaten the well-being of certain individuals.
Some manufacturers may call back employees who are fearful of returning to work. Contractors may have less of a problem because of the opportunity to work alone and outdoors.
In most states and municipalities, power washing contractors never had to close their businesses, though car washes did have to close in many places. And initially, as we followed website ads, many contractors tied their text about continuing to operate and availability to COVID-19 in some way. We notice in recent weeks that has changed. Contractors—perhaps because they are out in the community interacting (safely) with customers—grasped “corona fatigue” emerging faster than others.
Do customers visiting websites for manufacturers really want to read a banner about COVID-19 practices? Or do customers want to go to a site free of reminders of the pandemic they know too well? This is something to consider and soon.
Ignoring COVID-19 will not make it disappear. Neither will devoting every waking second to being bombarded with reminders of it or thinking about it.
Some individuals can work from home. Payments can be processed by taps and electronic relay. But, we are still a long way from replicators that can provide food and water while we restrict our movement and interaction.
Depending on the season, between 7500 and 8000 people die each day in the United States. For a short interval in late March, COVID-19 added as much as 12 percent to some daily totals. That alarmed many people.
Striking a balance between life and risk is the lesson we are still in the process of learning. How much risk are we willing to take in order to live our lives?