July 15, 2020

Prominent Washington employers adapt to fight COVID-19 (w/video)

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
Clockwise from upper left: Michael Senske of Pearson Packaging Systems, Bob Battles of AWB, Washington Secretary of Health John Wiesman and Maria Courogen of the Washington Department of Health join Scott McTaggart of The Boeing Co. (not pictured) for a July 15, 2020 webinar on business contact tracing. 

Industry-leading Washington employers are doing their part to fight the spread of the coronavirus, including restructuring work spaces, restricting access to manufacturing floors, contact tracing and allowing employees who can to work remotely for the long haul.

Officials from Boeing and Pearson Packaging Systems shared their strategies to support both public health and the economy during AWB's Employer Resources Series webinar Wednesday.

At Spokane-based Pearson, access to the facility is strictly limited to those who absolutely need to be in the building, CEO Michael Senske said. And for those who do come in, they're required to undergo a thermal scan to check their temperature, check in at a facial recognition kiosk, and fill out daily online self-assessments to screen for COVID-19 symptoms, he said.

All employees who are able to work from home will be doing so until there's a safe, widely available vaccine, therapeutic treatment or widespread community-wide immunity, he said.

"We've really tried to prepare the remote portion of our workforce, those that can work remotely, really that we're in this for the long haul, and have been very open and transparent about that," Senske said.

Senske also said the company's liberal sick leave policy has been augmented in the time of COVID specifically because they don't want people to come to work if they have symptoms.

"We're trying to create a safe and secure environment for them so that they don’t feel pressure to be at work to provide for their families," he said. "We're fortunate enough to be able to do that for our employees and that's been received very, very well."

Washington employers are also helping with contact tracing, which identifies people who have a disease, and their contacts which may have been exposed to it. The identity of the infected person is protected.

There are now more than 50 contact tracers at The Boeing Co., said Scott McTaggart, senior manager of Environment, Health and Safety.

When a possible or presumed case is identified, a contact tracing investigation is initiated, he said.

"Contact tracing investigators are looking for any connection with a source -- and a source would be a positive or presumed positive individual -- looking for any connection that involved people being within six feet for more than a 10-minute period."

This is conducted by interviewing the area manager, source employee and others as needed, he said.

"The source name is revealed to management on a need-to-know basis but never to non-management personnel," he added. "Management must maintain confidentiality of the source name."

The investigation findings are documented, and the incident management team will work with managers and health services to confirm who should be sent out on quarantine, he said. The work areas are isolated until they can be cleaned and reentry plans are in place.

McTaggart also said that quarantine numbers per case dropped significantly with the implementation of social distancing and mask requirements.

"We've learned that we needed to restructure some of the work to make sure that we could keep people compliant with that 6-foot guidance," he said.

Secretary John Wiesman of the state Department of Health commended Boeing and Pearson Packaging for their efforts.

"I just want to give a shout out to both Scott and Michael for their work and their organization's leadership in taking this seriously and putting the systems in place that you have," Wiesman said. "…Your partnership with public health is critical, because the workforce is short, and that kind of partnership that you have demonstrated is wonderful. Thank you."

Also Wednesday, Maria Courogen, the special assistant for systems transformation at the Department of Health, shared a contact tracing guide developed by Challenge Seattle.

The guide, "Healthy Workplace: The Role of Employers in Effective Contact Tracing," can help employers be prepared. Washington is currently experiencing an upswing in cases, which means that many employers will experience having somebody in their workplace who has COVID-19, she said.

"The key to managing this is to really be prepared. Have a plan in place before that happens in your worksite," she said.

For more information, please visit www.coronavirus.wa.gov. Find resources to safely and quickly reopen at www.reboundandrecovery.org.

Check out the video below for more details.