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Coronavirus Update: Opinion – West Virginia is ready for a safe return to work

By Rebecca McPhail

President, West Virginia Manufacturers Association

A few weeks ago, we told you how manufacturers had stepped up to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The #CreatorsRespond effort has helped our first responders and health care workers meet the unpredictable demands of managing an unprecedented viral threat. Thanks to careful guidance from health care experts, herculean efforts by our care-giving community and responsible behavior from a majority of citizens, West Virginia is able to open back up for business.

Restarting our economy will not happen easily or quickly. In the manufacturing industry, we know we will face hurdles from supply chain disruptions to workforce shortages. But it is imperative that West Virginians start to emerge from the cocoon of quarantine and get back to work.

Rebecca McPhail

At the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, we are not saying it is time to get back to normal, because normal no longer exists. But adjusting to a new way of functioning in business does not preclude a mindful, measured return to productivity.

This is true for companies and individual workers in any industry. Temporary boosts in government benefits, plus fears related to COVID-19, may be a temptation for some to remain separated from employment, but the values of work go far beyond the paycheck. Being productive and part of the workforce also can improve the health and well-being of individuals, both physically and mentally, and those benefits have long-lasting impact.

Looking at our near-term future and the slow transition to a “new normal” in business, it is imperative for the WVMA to remind the public that manufacturers always have prioritized the health and safety of their employees, and our response to COVID-19 is no different.

As an essential industry in West Virginia, manufacturers implemented rigorous procedures to ensure  they can continue to make the products consumers need in the safest possible way. From developing work-from-home plans and reconfiguring production lines to implementing social distancing and modifying equipment and facilities to eliminate frequent touch points throughout plants, our creators are responding to the needs of employees.

In the midst of all this adaptation and innovation, the larger political conversation about COVID-19 responses has made it clear that fear sells. Traditional and social media outlets are being used in some cases to create and/or perpetuate anxiety about returning to work.

From the manufacturing industry, however, the WVMA can allay some of those fears. Our factories, plants and other production facilities have remained safe during the entire COVID-19 quarantine period, and additional measures are in place to keep our workers safe moving forward. Manufacturers are committed to providing the safest possible environments with sufficient personal protective equipment available, coupled with adherence to the highest achievable safety standards.

We cannot ignore the long-term emotional and economic consequences of the COVID-19 economic downturn, but we have the responsibility to do our part in mitigating those effects. West Virginians must realize they can return to work in the safest possible manner. We all must return to work. It is time.

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