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Re-Open Florida: Education, manufacturing working group talks precautions

No Shirt, No Shoes, No Mask, No Service.

Members of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Groups discussed Thursday what it will take to reopen parts of Florida’s economy including complicated long-term challenges protecting workers’ and residents’ health.

Rogan Donnelly, President of Tervis, the North Venice manufacturer of plastic drink tumblers, suggested checking employees’ temperatures before entering the workplace in addition to providing masks, disinfecting regularly and finding ways to impose social distancing.

“We are investigating the use of temperature guns or thermal cameras,” Donnelly told the Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Group on Administrative, Education, Information & Technology, Manufacturing, Utilities and Wholesale as it continued discussions about how Florida might emerge from the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic crisis.

“There still is some concern on temperature checking. The thermometers are hard to find and are on back-order. Taking an employee’s temperature also puts HR at higher risk, potentially exposing themselves to the virus. Not to mention our HR team is not certified on how to actively take a temperature. So we need to find someone who can train or certify our team, and to identify clear policies about which temperatures are too high, and what happens if a person has that temperature,” Donnelly cautioned.

“Administratively, any information from a screening will be considered a medical record and will need to be treated confidentially and stored separately,” he added.

The work group continued a second day of discussions Thursday about specific practices, while also getting broad reports from several industry sectors. The discussions weighed how badly the sectors need to get back to work and whether they will be ready to reopen.

“Also the recommendation was to have this be something that took the onus off the state and put it back on the businesses, so that they could determine ‘are we ready to open, or not’ rather than the state telling them,” said James Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of the Florida Technology Council. “So by meeting these different protocols, it allows them to say, ‘yes we can do that; we’re in a position to open right now.'”

Some sectors of Florida’s economy, particularly information and technology and community colleges and technical training, are seeing big opportunities. The colleges and technical training schools, noted Broward College President Greg Haile, are typically counter-cyclical with the economy. When unemployment goes up, so does enrollment.

But, he cautioned, “this is unlike anything we have ever seen.”

On the other hand, the early learning and education segment of child care and pre-kindergarten education is really hurting, though statewide 44% of providers have remained open.

That number is far lower in some counties, such as Miami-Dade, where only around 15% are still open. Those that have closed, face serious challenges to reopen because many of them are very small businesses with very limited revenue and resources. Evelio C. Torres, President of the Miami-Dade County Early Learning Coalition, said the state must find ways to funnel CARES Act money to them so they can get back to work.

Manufacturing is a mixed bag, with some companies like Tervis having to cut back and others finding new markets for new products, particularly those that have been able to pivot to provide health care products.

“A large majority of them have seen a sudden and steep decline in their sales and revenues,” said Manny Mencia, Enterprise Florida’s Senior Vice President for international trade and business development. “This is happening while they’ve also been experiencing a significant disruption in their supply chains.”

The theme of new safety guidelines was universal in any reopening during the coronavirus crisis.

Torres cautioned that child care centers face particular difficulties.

“Full social distancing in a child-care setting is practically impossible,” Torres said. “So the ones that are open may not have enough personal protection equipment due to the shortages. A lot of them are making do with what they have. But this is a concern to the staff, a concern to the parents, as well to the owners and directors.”

Taylor offered recommended practices for the IT industry including a pandemic response team, daily self-screening for all employees and visitors, mandatory social distancing in-house, personal protection equipment and training on how to use it, a 30-day supply of PPE, sanitizer, soap, and other such supplies, disinfection and cleaning protocols and signage.

“No Shirt, No Shoes, No Mask, No Service,” he suggested.

Some work group members cautioned that with current medical assumptions that 25 to 50% of COVID-19 cases are in people who never show symptoms, masks should be required. One member said his company advises employees to make and bring their own.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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