Business Quarterly: Manufacturing companies begin to soften COVID-19 protocols

  • Employees at Kimball Physics in Wilton, Melissa Stockwell, Dan Taylor, Randy Wright, Tom Carty and Lee Lewis wear masks and practice social distancing. Courtesy photo

  • Andrea Katz, a physicist at Kimball Physics in Wilton, dons a mask at her work station while taking measurements. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/12/2021 4:53:07 PM

Local manufacturers, some of them among the largest employers in the area, said many of their COVID-19 protocols have been lifted and their companies are normalizing.

New Hampshire’s vaccination numbers continue to rise, though the initial surge of vaccination has slowed considerably in the past weeks. Currently, New Hampshire has distributed a total of 1.66 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccination, with 778,000 people fully vaccinated, or 57.2 percent of the population. Recorded cases of COVID-19 are also trending downward in the state.

As more residents finish their vaccination regimen, the state has rolled back some of its recommendations for COVID-19 precautions, including travel quarantines and masking mandates.

Some of the regions largest employers have followed suit, making recent adjustments to their COVID-19 protocols, though still leaving several safeguards in place.

“Like everybody in 2020, this whole thing caught us off guard,” Abigail LePage, president and CEO of Kimball Physics in Wilton told the Ledger-Transcript. “In March (of 2020), we had to hustle to make changes and get people who could working remotely. Anyone we could, we sent to work from home. But we are a manufacturing facility, and our production crews, obviously, that wasn’t possible.”

Kimball Physics employs about 70 people, LePage said, and didn’t have room for all employees on the manufacturing floor to fully social distance, though they provided that space when they could, and installed plastic barriers for when it wasn’t possible. Sanitization on often-touched surfaces happened multiple times a day, and masks were mandated for company employees. Employees also had to take their temperature and self-report any symptoms or contact with anyone with COVID-19 symptoms.

LePage said some of those protocols still linger, but many in the past weeks have been lifted. Masks are no longer required, and employees still take their temperature and self-report on an honor system.

New Hampshire Ball Bearings in Peterborough also enacted strict COVID-19 protocols, according to Chris Rawnsley, NHBB’s director of safety, environment and sustainability.

“Our guidelines were, and continue to be more restrictive than CDC recommendations, but we created an environment for our employees where they felt safe coming to work,” Rawnsley said.

In recent weeks, as the state has lifted some restrictions, those policies have been updated, but some remain in place, Rawnsley said.

“Many of our protocols have been lifted including quarantining after domestic travel, temperature screening, and staggered shift entrance/exit, but many remain,” Rawnsley said. “Social distancing requirements and being diligent about not coming to work when you feel ill are still firmly in place.”

The company’s employees have been vaccinated at about the same rate as the rest of the state of New Hampshire – about half – Rawnsley said. Vaccinated employees have been given leave to remove their masks when at their workstations or walking around the facility, but all employees, vaccinated or not, are continuing to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible.

But LePage and Rawnsley said not every aspect of COVID-19 protocol will be falling to the wayside as the situation trends toward returning to normalcy.

“One of the things that was a blessing in disguise, because with remote work, we had to find out if it could work,” LePage said.

Meetings that would have been in person were often held remotely, and LePage said they’ll likely be carrying that practice forward into the future. Sanitization practices are also likely going to continue, as they take little time but result in a cleaner working environment, LePage said.

At New Hampshire Ball Bearings, the company has created a “more robust” pandemic disease response procedures than it had prior to 2020, that will live on in their protocols, Rawnsley said.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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