Finley: How to do business, and stay safe

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

John Kennedy operates three manufacturing plants, including one in West Michigan, that have remained opened throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to produce essential medical devices.

Of 500 employees, only one, in Plymouth, Mass., has come down with the virus, and has recovered. It's not by chance.

Kennedy's Autocam Medical has instituted rigorous precautions to protect worker safety, including social distancing within the plants, mandatory face masks and a zero entrance policy for workers who show any symptoms of illness.

"We take everyone's temperature before they enter the facility," Kennedy says. "We took most of the chairs out of the conference rooms and stand up in meetings to maintain social distancing."

All day long, cleaners wipe down every flat surface with cleanser. No visitors are allowed inside. And the social distancing rule is strictly enforced.

Kennedy, who is also chairman of the West Michigan Policy Forum, believes a large number of businesses in the state could safely reopen using the practices Autocam employs. The policy forum Friday endorsed a blueprint presented by Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey that offers guidelines for a safe reopening of the state economy.

The plan "starts with the premise that we have real, identifiable evidence that we can design most workplaces to be as safe as you can be at home," Shirkey says. 

Businesses would be assessed based on high, moderate and low risk, with low risk operations allowed to open first. The plan would also be more lenient with businesses located in parts of the state that haven't been hard hit by COVID-19.

It could be phased up or down, Shirkey says, to respond to a surge and the local medical community's capacity to handle patients.

Shirkey believes 75% of businesses could reopen under his guidelines, if they design a set of detailed policies and protocols for keeping workers and customers safe. The last to open, he says, would be big venues that host sporting events and concerts. Bars and restaurants could open as they demonstrate they can maintain social distancing.

Sen. Mike Shirkey believes 75% of businesses could reopen under his guidelines, if they design a set of detailed policies and protocols for keeping workers and customers safe.

"They may be a couple of weeks behind," Shirkey says, adding that success will depend on the commitment of employees to adhere to the rules put in place.

Employers in Michigan are eager to reopen, and the state economy needs them to do so. They're also, for the most part, truly concerned about keeping their workers safe.

"It's a risk-based approach," Kennedy says of Shirkey's plan. "To the extent you're a low-risk business, I think you can reopen today.

"The way we talk to our employees about it is there is a much greater risk to go to the grocery store than to come into our plant."

The approach would seem to meet Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's desire to err on the side of extreme caution, while slowly and safely resuming commerce.

Shirkey, who says he hasn't spoken to the governor in two weeks, has a call scheduled with her Monday and will present his plan to her then.

Take the success Kennedy has had, the risk-based approach Shirkey recommends and vet both with health experts, and the governor could have the path she's looking for to gradually opening Michigan's doors.

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