By Jill Penley
COVID-19 caused one of the county’s largest employers, Parkdale Mills, to suspend operations in late March, affecting hundreds of Johnson Countians, but this week employees of the Mountain City Plant 16 were directed to return to work.
Many manufacturers have made adjustments and adaptations in an attempt to stay operational. Parkdale Inc., the largest yarn spinner in the U.S. headquartered in Gastonia, N.C, responded to the urgent call for medical supplies and built a supply chain virtually overnight to fast-track the manufacturing of medical face masks to help hospitals, health care workers and citizens battling the spread of the COVID-19 disease. Parkdale Inc. helped lead the effort to build the coalition with HanesBrands, Fruit of the Loom, and six other companies to set up a manufacturing supply chain and begin ramping up production of the masks.
Johnson County businesses are all beginning to open, albeit with restrictions in adherence with state and federal guidelines to reopen safely, including strict hygiene practices and continuing social distancing requirements. Some local businesses remain closed, however, struggling to survive. While small businesses face many challenges, 2020 seemingly deals blow after blow, drastically altering business practices and causing some small business owners to consider closing.
Restaurants are directed to strictly adhere to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and to follow additional safeguarding measures. These measures include additional employee and consumer protections, including providing ServSafe COVID-19 training for all employees, limiting the number of customers in the restaurant to 50 percent seating capacity, spacing tables six feet apart, limiting tables to no more than six guests per table, keeping bar areas closed, not having live music, and screening customers for illness upon entry.
Restaurants are also directed to place hand sanitizer stations in the restaurant lobby, bathrooms, and cashier stations, sanitize all front-of-house contact surface areas, use disposable menus, or sanitize menus between each use, sanitize chairs, tabletops, and tabletop items after each user.
They are also directed not to use self-serve buffets, beverage re-use stations, or condiments that could be used by multiple tables. While all these requirements are meant to stop the spread of COVID-19, they come at a cost to the business owner, and some have such a slim profit margin, staying closed seems the only solution at this time.
Retail stores are instructed to limit the number of customers inside a store to 50 percent or less of the occupancy limit, establish one-way aisles and customer traffic patterns, increase curbside pickup options, and assign dedicated staff to prompt customers to follow social distancing procedures. Retail businesses are also required to establish enhanced cleaning protocols, use separate designated entrances and exits, use plastic shields or barriers between customers and clerks at service counters, and prohibit the use of reusable bags. The new guidelines, while being utilized, are an enormous expense to a business.
Tennessee was one of the first states to begin reopening businesses in phases. Gov. Bill Lee reports Tennesseans have worked to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Like the rest of the country, Tennessee has taken an unprecedented economic hit with families and small businesses feeling the most pain,” Lee said. “We must stay vigilant as a state, continue to practice social distancing, and engage in best practices at our businesses so that we can stay open.”