City board demands factories follow pandemic guidelines or risk closure

Published 7:06 pm Friday, April 3, 2020

Batesville’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen adopted a resolution at Friday’s meeting laying out the city’s requirements for industrial plants in the incorporated limits to remain open through the Shelter in Place period.

Panola Partnership CEO Joe Azar has been the go-between for city leaders and local plant managers during a week of back and forth discussions about each factory’s plan for protecting its workers from coronavirus infections.

Azar consistently reported to aldermen that Industry leaders were meeting regularly to discuss safety with their management teams, and at least once by conference call with several managers. He has kept the board updated in the past few days about various sanitation projects and measures taken by local factories.

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Some factories spent thousands of dollars sanitizing their facilities and worked closely with Azar to assure board members knew the threat of an coronavirus outbreak in their factories was being taken very seriously.

Other industries were slower to respond to Azar’s requests for written plans and proof that employees’ health was a top priority. Finally on Wednesday aldermen began to send messages that unless their questions were answered satisfactorily before Friday some local factories could expect to receive orders to shut their doors immediately.

The board, in fact, voted unanimously to order one local factory closed at the end of the day Wednesday, then rescinded their resolution a few hours later when representatives from that industry began frantically reaching out, promising full cooperation.

The Mayor and Board of Aldermen continually stressed to Azar they were reluctant to force any industry to shut, but were deeply concerned that dozens, and sometimes more than a hundred, employees were entering and exiting local facilities in a manner that invites the spread of coronavirus to a large group.

Most worrisome to city leaders was that hundreds of employees from other counties stream into Batesville and Panola County each day for industrial jobs, some coming from surrounding counties with high infection rates. Aldermen were concerned that the city had no way to account for who is coming here, and from where, in the midst of a pandemic.

Mayor Jerry Autrey said Friday the board’s threat to close the plants appeared to have worked because Azar reported he had full cooperation from every local industry during the past 24 hours, and that any reluctance to meet the standards given them by city officials had dissipated.

Some industries are deemed essential because of the nature of their products, or because they have contracts for production orders from the U.S. Military, or are directly producing essential products.

The board had asked Azar to independently verify the exemptions each company was claiming made them essential, and he presented that report Friday also.

Essentially, Azar said, Batesville has 10 industries that either have Department of Defense contracts, or are actively working to fill production orders that are vital in effort to end the pandemic.

Those are: Magnolia Tool & Die, Batesville Tool & Die, Edge Tooling, NewCo3 (formerly Plaspro), Crown Cork and Seal, Blauer, TVEPA, Cooperative Energy, Performance Food Group, and Panola Paper Company.

Four others said they are essential industries, but don’t have as strong cases based on their general production. Aldermen agreed that all industry is essential in spirit, but some plants aren’t manufacturing items that are directly needed in the coronavirus battle.

Those are: Parker-Hannifin, Anderson Technologies, Southern Beverage, and Insituform.

Two industries, Toyoda Gosei and Thermos, have already closed temporarily to give employees time away from their plants sites and give managers an opportunity to prepare production plans when they reopen.

Dunlap & Kyle, a major employee in Batesville, has continued to operate with a variety of safety measures put in place two weeks ago. GE Aviation, an essential industry by any standard, has reduced its workforce temporarily and is also adhering to the best practices guidelines Azar delivered.

Aldermen heard Azar’s presentations and were satisfied with his report that industry leaders now understand how serious city officials are taking their responsibility of keeping the local population safe as possible.

The board voted unanimously for a resolution that lays out strict guidelines for all industries in Batesville with a warning that officials will spot check each plant in the coming days to ensure the board’s order is being followed.

The guidelines that must be followed at all plants, beginning Sunday night at midnight. Aldermen did not make the order effective today because at least one factory is in the process of a complete sanitization of their facilities this weekend.

The following is a list of all the guidelines that must be followed by industry:

CITY OF BATESVILLE adoption of Industry Best Practices Guidance amidst Covid-19 Pandemic 2020

Allow non-essential employees to work from home, or rotate if necessary to better facilitate an environment of social distancing.

Stagger employees arrival and departure times by shift to eliminate overcrowding of the entrance, exit, and time clock areas.

Employees will maintain 6 ft. or 2 arm-lengths distance apart.

Stagger break times and limit break room numbers. Encourage using personal vehicles for break times, only one person per vehicle. If break room staggering and vehicles to not accommodate, consider providing tents outdoors for additional space.

Vehicles and tools should be assigned to the same personnel when possible.

One person per company vehicle.  In situations where there is a driver and helper, try to maintain the same team in same vehicle each shift.

It is required to thoroughly sanitize when vehicles, tools, equipment, desks, phones, and offices are shared between shifts.

Companies should issue all employees “Proof of Employment.”

Require personal hygiene.

Must provide sanitizing stations throughout the facility.

Companies must sanitize high-touch areas on the hour, and consistently throughout the facility.

Companies must communicate social distancing with reminders on signs and monitors throughout the facility.

Facilities with areas of high decibel levels can consider headset communication for employees so they can maintain safe distance separation.

Companies should establish immediate mass communication – as in the “Remind” app, or alike – with all of their employees, for emergency alerts.

If an employee has been in direct contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19, the employee should stay at home for 14 days, and the Panola County EMA Director must be notified.

Employees must be excused from work for a period of 14 days, or required to provide the company with a full medical release from physician if any of the following apply:

    • ● Employee has traveled to a CDC designated “Level III” country;
    • ● Employee has a fever of 100.4 or higher, and shortness of breath/difficulty breathing;
    • ● Employee has been in direct contact with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.
  • If an employee is exhibiting symptoms, you are required to conduct a contact-tracing interview prior to sending home in order to determine who else may have been exposed. Those identified should be dismissed until a negative test result is determined, or 14 days have passed symptom free.
  • Companies should conduct a thorough professional cleaning of the symptomatic individual’s area, and all common areas. If test results are positive, companies are required to conduct a thorough professional cleaning of the entire facility, unless the employee was assigned specifically to a zone with dedicated common areas and restrooms. In that case, only that particular zone would require the thorough professional cleaning.
  • Required
  • Companies must temperature check ALL employees at least 2-times daily at the following times:
    • ● Arrival
    • ● Departure
    • ● Also consider break time as a 3rd check
  • Employee temperatures must be recorded with date, time, and temperature and employee number.
  • Medical grade temperature scanners are recommended.
  • Companies are required to temperature check outside service personnel, vendors and/or visitors before entering the premises.
  • Truck drivers that are delivering, receiving, or load-backs should have a specified restroom available, or port-a-potty. If they enter the facility, they should be temperature-checked as well.
  • Proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for cleaning crews and temperature checkers should be provided, i.e. N95 masks, goggles, gloves, and protective clothing.
  • Industries are required to notify the Panola County EMA Director of any positive Covid-19 test as they apply to employees.
  • If any employee tests positive for Covid-19, the plant must be professionally sanitized and proof of service must be provided to the Panola County EMA Director.
  • Facilities will be subjected to spot checks by Economic Development, County EMA Director, and City Personnel, including law enforcement personnel.
  • Plant managers must certify under penalty of law that the aforementioned requirements have been met and will continue to be met throughout until further orders by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen of the City of Batesville.