BRAINTREE, Mass. — Gov. Charlie Baker says he spends less time with the lieutenant governor these days yet they talk far more often.
It's an example of how the state will have to navigate this new normal — giving up the physical and social elements of teamwork but keeping remote contact.
"It's the loss of the socialization issues, and the sense of team, and the sense of community that comes with those opportunities to sit together and talk about what's going on with your family or what's going on with your work and what's going on generally that we're going to have to deal with," he said at Wednesday's briefing. "And I think that's going to be true for a lot of us as we all move forward."
The governor and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito toured the family-owned Symmons Industries to see examples of how the plumbing parts manufacturer is adapting to the guidelines for reopening during the pandemic that were set out on Monday. (No briefing was held on Tuesday.)
Two years ago, Baker and Polito had toured the 80-year-old manufacturer and spoke to 150 people in the building's lobby. This time was quite different, he noted, as Symmons has been instituting industry specific guidelines to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"During the past 80 years, many world events presented challenges to our business, but never before have we been faced with a challenge as great as the cobia crisis," said Timothy O'Keeffe, chief executive officer at Symmons Industries and grandson of the founder. "The unique combination of trying to keep a business stable, while at the same time keeping your team safe and healthy is unprecedented."
Symmons, precision plumbing fixtures manufacturer, pivoted to producing personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as developing touchless microbial keys and a water management platform for hotels.
Baker said he had been told that the employees expected changes with operating within a pandemic, but the hardest part had been the loss of easy socialization in the cafeteria.
"One of the major challenges that we will all face going forward on this, not just here at Simmons but in workplaces across the commonwealth and as a country, is some of that intimacy ... that is so much a part of the shared commitment to work," he said. "And that is going to be the way it is going to be for some period of time here until we get to the point where we have treatments for a vaccine."
Symmons has also continued to implement policies including wearing masks, using gloves as necessary, regular sanitizing and hand-washing, staggering schedules and social distancing.
"All of us, employers, workers, customers and community leaders, continue to have a role in pushing back against the virus," said Baker. "Symmons stands as a strong example of how this can be done safely and responsibly."
The "Reopening Massachusetts" four-phased plan includes industry specific guidelines for safe operations. Essential businesses already open can continue following the plan; non-essential businesses can begin opening starting on Monday, May 5.
Businesses self-certify that they are complying with new rules by developing a COVID-19 control plan and displaying a signed attestation poster in a place on premises visible to employees and visitors.
"In addition to the safety standards that we've highlighted for manufacturing, a specific checklist was developed to ensure that businesses and their managers may may remain compliant," said Polito. "This is really important because we want workers to feel and be safer when they come back to their jobs, and also for the customers for the people visiting and coming in and out of these workplaces that they also are."
Included in the guidelines is the recommendation for businesses that can to allow employees to work remotely. Baker said he and Polito are positive about the number of businesses that were going to continue along those lines.
"We the commonwealth happened to be one of those," he said. "I certainly believe it's absolutely the right thing to do with respect to with COVID and all the guidelines."
Baker stressed that the public health data will continue to inform the phased rollout as well as businesses' abilities to obtain the necessary protective equipment and other supplies. Resources for businesses and organizations are available on the Reopening Massachusett's website.
"The goal of phased reopening is to methodically allow businesses services and activities to resume, while avoiding a resurgence of COVID-19 that could overwhelm the health-care system and erase much of the progress that we've all made so far," said the governor.
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A tropical storm heading north up the Atlantic coast could bring more rain to the Berkshires over the weekend.
Dubbed "Fay," the storm began as a tropical depression off the coast of North Carolina midweek and formed late Thursday.
According to Accuweather, the storm has sustained winds of 60 mph and could bring 2 to 4 inches of rain over Western Mass and Southern Vermont from late Friday through Saturday morning.
"Fay will make landfall along the New Jersey coast during Friday afternoon," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and Lead Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said. "Fay will be a mostly heavy rain producer but could still bring wind gusts of 50-60 mph along coastal areas of eastern Long Island and over southern coastal areas of New England."