With Massachusetts now in the first phase of a four-phase reopening plan, Gov. Charlie Baker visited a plumbing products manufacturer today to highlight the new normal for workplace safety.
The governor toured Symmons Industries in Braintree where workers wearing face masks and gloves are separated by sheets of plastic on the manufacturing floor and eat alone, one to a table, spaced far apart, in the company cafeteria. He said it is illustrative of what people will return to over the next several weeks and months as the state’s economy restarts under strict rules to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
"The physical closeness associated with work isclearly going to change and with that will come other pretty significant changes," Baker said.
Under the plan to incrementally reopen the state, there are general workplace safety requirements including social distancing, face-coverings, frequent cleaning of high touch areas, and hand-wash stations. Then there are industry-specific protocols that must be followed.
Symmons, CEO Tim O’Keeffe said the company has implemented new policies and procedures to meet the safety standards.
" We learned as we implemented each step," O'Keeffe said. " When we started taking temperatures it was very awkward for folks and we tried to put in steps to make it less awkward. Now we play 80's music and it just makes it more relaxed and more of a normal thing."
Each workplace in Massachusetts has a checklist of safety steps that must be followed. O’Keeffe said he’s heard no grumbling about it.
"People stepped up," said O'Keeffe. "They didn't ask or complain ' why do we have to do this or why do we have to do that?' They just stepped forward and I think that will happen for all companies. Everyone is willing to do their part to get through this together."
Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, who chaired the state’s Reopening Advisory Board, said enforcement of the workplace safety requirements is up to local officials.
" Our goal is to educate and support complaince and work with cities and towns to give these companies the tools they need to make the adjustments," said Polito.
In order to move forward with the phased reopening, there must be progress in each of six key indices including hospitalizations for COVID-19, new cases, testing, and contact tracing. The percentage of positive daily tests has been below 10 percent for a week now.
"That is a very promising development and a positive trend," said Baker.
Next week – still in phase one – offices can reopen at 25 percent capacity. But, Baker is encouraging employers to continue to let people work from home.
"I certainly believe it is the right thing to do, " said Baker. "But that will create some distance. There will be a lost opportunity for people to engage with one another."
Barbershops and hair salons can open next week to serve customers by appointment only. Retail stores can offer curbside pickup.