Part 6: Ready to get back to work, safely!

Part of our ‘Thinking About Tomorrow Today’ series

It is quite inspiring to see so many people across this country coming together during this COVID-19 crisis trying to do their part to help others.  We have seen grocery deliveries to home-bound senior citizens, birthday parades without human contact, and people figuring out new ways to make face masks and other Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, for healthcare professionals on the front lines.

Last week, I was listening to the news and heard one such story.  At Louisiana State University, campus leaders took the initiative to put together a plan to make PPE and face masks for area healthcare workers.

They collected fabric donations, and tracked down tables and sewing machines.  Their “sewing room” was the floor of the Pete Maravich Center, the empty 13,215-seat basketball arena on campus.

At the end of the segment, the University president said, there were never more than 40 people at any one time making these gowns as they were very respectful of social distancing guidelines.

I should have felt really positive after hearing this report.  But honestly, I didn’t.

During my early years, I worked at our family drapery business. I worked alongside a number of hardworking folks, who daily sat at their sewing machines custom-making draperies for customers across Southern California.  I worked there until I was elected to the state legislature in 1988.  And even though I don’t work there anymore, the family business still continues.  Yet like so many businesses across this state and country, it has been dramatically impacted during this time.

Businesses are shuttered. Millions of us, from various businesses of all types and sizes, are waiting for the signal that will allow us to get life back to ’normal.’   Some businesses may never re-open.

Consequently, millions of workers have been forced to wait and worry about their livelihoods.

And after hearing the LSU story, these are the things I thought about.

Here we have some enterprising folks at LSU doing good, who developed a plan that was accepted by the ’authorities’ that allowed them to assemble an impromptu manufacturing facility.  And this is in a state that has been a COVID-19 hotspot.

Yet, across America, we are not allowing small businesses, shop owners, restaurants, and even garment or drapery manufacturers to go back to work—good jobs that workers depend on to support their families.  We have not given private-sector employers the green light to come up with a plan for their businesses that respect social distancing and practices that will, to the best of all of our knowledge, keep their workers safe.

Why can’t businesses have a plan to require all of their employees to wear masks, stay 10 feet away from one another, wash their hands with soap and water every hour, on the hour?  Some businesses would rush to open up tomorrow, and gladly accept those rules.

Perhaps some businesses could operate with a limited number of people per square foot in their businesses spaces.

Or could employers require workers to get tested every week to continue to work?

There are a myriad of creative ways businesses might use to reopen and keep their workers safe. There are many ways that these creative individual businesses can come up with specific guidelines to gently restart their businesses and thus, the economy itself.

The creatives at LSU came up with a plan to sew PPE for healthcare workers that government leaders embraced as a cautious option that did not harm the health of the community and workers and that would not spread the illness.

As we debate these questions of “when and how” to re-open the state and the country, shouldn’t we let individual business people establish plans for reopening their own businesses?  Certainly there should be health-minded guidelines, but as people on the national and state levels are being called together to study ways the economy can open – maybe the first call for that strategy should be made to the owners of local restaurants, shops and manufacturing facilities, as to how they could do it.

 

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