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May 18, 2020 Other Voices

CBIA’s Brennan: A safe reopening is everyone’s responsibility

Photo | HBJ File The Connecticut State Capitol.

The shutdown of much of our economy has been essential to protect public health, but it has wreaked economic havoc on thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of residents. 

Our unemployment rate is nearing Great Depression levels and the toll on families is immeasurable.

Most of Connecticut's largest service businesses remained open over the last two months because they were deemed essential and many, if not most, of their employees can work remotely. For small and midsize businesses, however, it is largely a different story.

Joe Brennan is retiring as CBIA's president and CEO.

What was hoped at the time to be a three- or four-week shutdown is now two months long as the virus spread throughout Connecticut. With each day that goes by, the situation becomes more dire for employers and their employees. 

The question is, can we stem the damage to our economy by reopening more businesses, but do so in a way that is safe and avoids a new surge in infections?

The answer is yes, but only if we all get on board and follow the guidelines promulgated by federal, state, and local governments.

One reason why I am confident that we can reopen successfully is because of the experience of the state’s manufacturers. Unlike governors in many other states, Gov. Ned Lamont included all manufacturers on the essential business list, and most have been open and functioning since the beginning of the outbreak.

There were many operating challenges in the early days of the pandemic, but with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Department of Economic and Community Development, and other organizations, manufacturers adapted well and are keeping their employees safe.

Companies are still reporting infections, but in relatively low numbers given the number of people working in plants and warehouses across our state. 

These employers follow the Safe Workplace Rules for Essential Employers, developed by DECD in consultation with the state’s chief manufacturing officer and the state’s manufacturers. The rules cover key items such as personal protective equipment, cleaning and disinfecting, social distancing, and the like.

Manufacturers are also innovating, devising additional ways to keep their employees safe based on the conditions of their workplaces. Some are using testing and temperature-taking protocols to add another level of security. 

In addition to protecting employees from the virus, there is another added benefit to these additional levels of care, and that is to instill greater confidence in workers and others that workplaces are safe. 

We simply cannot revive our economy if people are fearful of going to work or leaving their homes. And the best way to eliminate or reduce fear is for every one of us to be mindful of others’ fear and do what we can to alleviate it. 

It is the responsibility of every employer, large or small, to do everything that is reasonable and practical to keep their plants, offices, stores, and other workplaces infection-free. Once these steps are taken, it is incumbent upon every employee to follow each rule and guideline as laid out by the company. 

There are a couple other basic rules that the state is stressing — if you can work from home, continue to do so, and if you are 65 years of age or older, or have underlying health problems, stay home. 

Although we are a small state relative to others in the nation, we are still home to 3.5 million people. But in the fight against COVID-19, we must think of ourselves as one community, doing everything we can for the sake of others. 

For employers, employees, and the public, it is only through rigorous adherence to the guidance from the CDC and the state that we can dramatically limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Ultimately, the safe reactivation of our economy will not be determined by institutions, but by every one of us, the people of Connecticut. Everyone, even those who are angry about the shutdown, must do their part and wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands.

If everyone follows the rules — all the time — we can work our way back to some version of normal without putting our family, friends, co-workers, and fellow citizens at undue risk. Following the rules in phase one is the quickest route to phase two.

We really have no choice — a resurgence of COVID-19 cases will cause more lasting damage than the original closure of the state’s economy.

Joe Brennan is CBIA’s president and CEO.

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