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How area companies are responding to coronavirus, down to fixing the water temperature
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Syfan Logistics employees keep track of thousands of truck moving goods across the country at their Old Candler Road site. - photo by Scott Rogers

Cancellation of sales trips and a trade association convention is one of many actions Syfan Logistics in Gainesville is taking to guard against coronavirus.

Precautions are wide-ranging, down to “we’ve changed the temperature on our faucets that are all automatic in our restrooms to a much warmer temperature,” said Jim Syfan, CEO of Syfan Logistics.

“It just boils down to good common sense,” he said. “We’ve got an unknown virus. What do we do? We don’t go hugging each other and kissing each other like we normally do. Social life changes to a more dormant style.”

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Syfan Logistics employees work Friday, March 13, 2020, in room filled with computer monitors at their site on Old Candler Road. - photo by Scott Rogers

The pandemic, declared a national emergency by President Donald Trump on Friday, March 13, has businesses across America looking at internal policies and procedures in dealing with both customers and employees. 

“It’s the responsibility of every employer to protect employees from these and other illnesses in the workplace,” states an article on Gainesville-based Turner, Wood & Smith Insurance’s website. “Taking even small precautions could save an organization countless hours of lost productivity.”

“Employers should protect against coronaviruses much like they protect against the flu: Offer on-site flu shots, stock cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer, and educate employees on prevention methods.”

According to Turner, Wood & Smith, U.S. Department of Labor guidelines say, among other things, that the Family and Medical Leave Act “provides leave for an employee’s serious health condition or to care for a family member’s serious health condition, but does not provide leave for avoiding the workplace out of a fear of contracting a disease.”

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Burt Petley makes his way through Syfan Logistics disinfecting high traffic areas throughout. With good planning and forethought, Syfan hired Petley well before the Coronavirus was even discovered. - photo by Scott Rogers

Also, federal officials encourage employers to consider flexible leave policies for their employees.

“We are following federal and state guidelines,” Syfan said.

He noted that in a company expansion over the past couple of years, “we added on significantly, enough to handle a couple of years of growth. We had four empty tables, if you will, and so we’ve sort of spread (workers) out so we don’t have to be so close to each other.”

The company also checked heating and air filters “to make sure they are new and clean and functioning properly,” Syfan said.

Many of the office workers can do their jobs from home via laptops, he said.

“We’re encouraging our people to stay home, and we’re not limiting vacation if (workers) have a planned vacation,” said Tom Hensley, president of Fieldale Farms poultry company, which has locations in Hall County.

“We need people to work every day, and we’re not panicking,” he added.

Plants themselves are “spotlessly clean,” Hensley said. “They’re sanitized every night. They’re not a single germ in the chicken plant when it cranks up in the morning, and our people routinely wash their hands throughout the day.

“If a coronavirus gets in the chicken plant, it doesn’t have a … chance to make it through the day,” he said.

Workers needing to address child care issues — such as a center closing because of coronavirus — “is a problem for sure,” Hensley said.

School being out is the biggest concern, and we’re not sure how that’s going to play out for us next week. We’ll just find out when we get there. It’s not any different than when school’s out for snow days — there’s just more of them.”

Another concern is ongoing economic impacts from the coronavirus, which has caused the stock market to go into freefall.

“We’re not immune (from a downturn),” Syfan said. “We’re in a good cash position and have excellent credit and excellent relationships with our banks, as long as our banks are healthy.

“As the world goes on — not its merry way, but its new way — we’ll be fine. We figured out a long time ago that when we begin to feel like everything is comfortable, life is good and we’re bulletproof, we have to shake our heads and remember that anything can come up. And it’s usually the things that nobody expects.”