The epic proportions of the coronavirus infection have created a situation changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up with what’s happening. However, “keeping up” is a priority for most of the industries that use valves and related products because their operations are directly related to keeping this nation running.
The Department of Homeland Security and its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which is leading much of the national response, issued guidance March 19 calling for any company working in a “critical infrastructure industry” to maintain a normal work schedule. The guidance was clarified March 23 to include workers “needed to maintain the continuity of these manufacturing functions and associated supply chains.” That covers most businesses that make and use valves from energy, water, healthcare, chemical processing to oil and gas, and food and agriculture. VMA issued letters to both Vice President Pence and CISA supporting this addition and explaining the key roles valves and related products play in controlling and regulating the production process, ensuring the safety of workers and protecting the environment, all of which are vital for keeping the nation’s critical infrastructure operational.
While this guidance doesn’t govern the way companies do business or dictate how states are to respond to COVID-19 concerns, many states and localities are adopting it as they struggle with how to handle their area of the world. All 50 states and U.S. territories now have coronavirus cases and each state and its governor, as well as the nation’s counties and cities, are handling their approach with a different level of requirements.
- California issued an executive order on March 19 that adopted a shelter-in-place ruling for much of the state but exempted critical infrastructure manufacturers under the CISA guidelines.
- New York developed its own list March 20 of businesses it considers “essential,” and many of those essentials are what’s on the federal list including chemicals, food processing, power, utilities and more.
- Texas has had a prohibition against gatherings of more than 10 and dining in restaurants since March 19 and many areas within Texas have issued either shelter in place orders (the county of Dallas) or stay-at-home orders (the Houston, Ft. Worth, Austin areas) except for people who work in essential industries. Most of those orders reference the CISA guidance.
- Pennsylvania ordered the closure of all businesses not considered “life sustaining” as of March 23, then clarified the list of essential businesses with a lengthy detailed chart including subsets of some of the industries on the federal list.
- Ohio’s governor ordered a shelter in place March 22 that adopts the federal CISA guidance on what’s an essential business but also included exemptions for manufacturing companies and for suppliers to essential businesses. The exemption is for a broad range of manufacturers, distributors and supply chain companies in fields such as pharmaceuticals, food and beverage, petroleum and fuels, mining, construction and more.
- Michigan’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order advised people they cannot “leave home to go to work unless your employer designates you as a critical infrastructure worker.”
Meanwhile, the nation’s municipalities and counties are reacting individually to what’s happening with actions ranging from the stricter shelter-in-place requirements of Dallas to simpler actions such as ordering the closure of all nonessential businesses, which occurred in Washington, D.C. and other urban areas this week.
VMA: INFORMATION SHARING IS KEY
Because of all this, “Companies have to make their own decisions about how to move forward based on their unique circumstances,” VMA President Heather Rhoderick said. “They need to find ways to serve their customers while keeping them safe and assuring their own employees’ concerns are addressed. It’s a tall order, but one of the key tools in the industry’s response to this virus will be information,” she said.
The information flow is a two-way street: Companies need data to make their individual decisions while associations and governing bodies are struggling to keep up with what’s happening and need input from industry and businesses.
“I’m encouraging VMA companies to reach out and let us know how they are handling their own operations and what’s happening in their localities as well as what needs they might have to stay in business and stay safe,” Rhoderick said. “We’re also encouraging industrial companies to contact their individual states to ask them to include their businesses in the list of essential industries, and have provided samples letters and talking points to help them do this,” she said.
Meanwhile, VMA is handling the dire need companies have for information through its own COVID-19 member resources page as well as a general page for the broader industry. The general information page on COVID-19 has updates on what’s happening, resources such as the guidance issued by CISA and links to developments in key government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. The member resources page has more specific information on what VMA’s member companies are doing to respond, as well as tools members can use to contact their states and communicate with their employees, information on new laws such as the “Families First Coronavirus Act” and reports on other legal issues as they develop.
VMA is also holding webinars for its members on specific topics. A second VMA webinar is coming up March 27 that will cover employee communications and state shutdowns (a webinar March 20 covered general industry responses, human resources issues and more).
“We are all facing unprecedented challenges as we respond to COVID-19. While each company needs to do what they feel is best based on their situation and what the governing bodies in their areas require, VMA is working to provide tools and information to help companies in this crisis. Our members and industry make products that are integral to the health and economic well-being of our nation, so we want to do what we can to support them,” Rhoderick concluded.