Conducting business safely has been a challenge for all kinds of businesses, large and small, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s especially true for Cambria, whose quartz manufacturing plant in Le Sueur is one of the largest employers in the area, with hundreds walking in and out of the plant each day. While the company had social distancing measures in place weeks before the shutdown, the plant recently implemented a no-contact technology to its defense against the coronavirus.
It’s called a thermal temperature reading system, and it’s designed to detect a fever before people enter the one-million-square-foot processing and fabrication facilities. When workers come to the Cambria plant, they line up six feet apart, single-file in the main lobby before a body temperature detection camera mounted on the ceiling. In conjunction with a calibrator and a processor, the system then reads a person’s body temperature within 0.54 degrees of accuracy, said Brian Scoggin, EVP of Operations at Cambria.
“It’s embracing the environment that we’re in with COVID-19,” said Scoggin. “And Marty Davis, the CEO/owner, was looking into different technologies out there to create this temperature awareness for employees and providing feedback if they have a temperature or not.”
Cambria officials noted that CEO Davis has been an outspoken supporter of moves made by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz in response to the pandemic and has been in close contact with the governor on upcoming plans to reopen the economy. Cambria believes that, in the post-coronavirus world, temperature taking before admittance to work, school, restaurants, shops and events will likely become the norm.
If a person has a body temperature of below 99 degrees Fahrenheit, operators give them the clear to head inside. If the system detects a temperature of 99 degrees or above or fails to get a reading, workers are moved to a separate station for further testing.
After sitting down for five minutes, workers are given a reading with a no-contact handheld thermometer five different times. If the readings average above 99 degrees the employee cannot be let inside the building.
Employees referred for additional temperature screenings are also given a pulse oximeter, which measures the concentration of oxygen in the blood. The information from these readings are not collected by Cambria, but can be used by employees to share with their doctor.
“The employees like it,” said Scoggin. “They feel like we’re creating a safe, healthy, conscious environment. As they walk in the facilities, they know they’re safe and for the employees around them that are walking around and coming in, they feel more of a sense that we’re aware that they do not have a fever.”
The technology, which was manufactured by VenueScreen, cannot detect COVID-19 itself but a fever is one of the more common symptoms. The Center of Disease Control states that symptoms including fever, cough, chills, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing may appear 2-14 days after exposure. A fever or elevated body temperature can be a sign of other conditions including influenza, bacterial infection and inflammatory conditions.
The thermal temperature scan is just one of the many safety precautions taken by Cambria. Once inside, employees are to adhere to social distancing and work six feet apart. Reminders are posted around the facility, and when employees must work in close quarters, they are required to have face masks on. Virtual meetings over Google Hangout are encouraged over in-person conferences.
“Any time people can be social distancing, they are,” said Scoggin. “Which is really the entire plan. People are not together; they work apart. If you’ve been in the facility, it’s operating with large machinery, so people don’t have to work together in close quarters.”
To keep the workplace sanitary, surfaces are frequently cleaned, doors are left open when possible to lessen contact and the lunchroom has a limitation of one person per table.
These measures have allowed Cambria to bring back many of the plant’s day-shift workers. Two in three workers at the plant were previously sent home with pay in March.
“People are thrilled,” said Wendy Hearn, VP of Safety and Risk Management. “People want to get back to work; they’re excited to get back to work. This is just another level of allowing them to get back to work.”
After implementing the thermal temperature reading system, Cambria higher-ups believe that this technology could be used by other Minnesota manufacturers to promote a safe workplace environment. Hearn reported that other companies have already started contacting Cambria to learn more about it.
“We’ve had many inquiries from other manufacturing organizations that want to do similar testing so we’ve given them contacts to reach out to,” said Hearn.
Amid numerous event cancellations, the COVID-19 pandemic claimed another victim: Cleveland’s annual Cherry Creek Days.
The summer festival is one of Cleveland’s biggest celebrations dating back to 1978 after being organized by local churches in the community. Since then, Cherry Creek Days has attracted hundreds of visitors each year with events like the classic car roll-in, the 5k fun run, fireworks, street dance and parade. But on Monday, due to concerns over public health, the Cleveland City Council voted unanimously to cancel Cherry Creek Days in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The City Council had discussed canceling the festival last month when city-sponsored garage sales were canceled. City Administrator Dan Evans told the council that planning for the festival required the city of Cleveland to contract entertainment well in advance, something the council and city staff wasn’t comfortable with, due to the unpredictability of the pandemic.
The council moved to postpone the event to an unknown date, but after reassessing the situation a month later, the city determined that holding the event would not be feasible.
“The event takes a lot of planning and coordination to put it on, but we were already in May and it was going to be in six weeks,” said Evans. “We kind of had everybody on limbo saying we might go through with it, we might not … We’re a little too close to the event and with the stay at home order it was just in the interest of the safety of everyone in the community to cancel it.”
One of the central draws of Cherry Creek Days has been the parade which featured both local businesses and organizations and those from the surrounding organizations. The parade would be led by color guard from Cleveland, Elysian and Le Center followed by the grand marshal, and the Cleveland Public School Homecoming King and Queen would ride in the same parade as Le Center St. Patrick’s Day royalty and the Scott-Le Sueur County Dairy princesses.
Cherry Creek Days is also an important time for Cleveland’s Volunteer Fire Department. The department’s Pork Chop Feed and silent auction goes back about as far as the event itself and has been a significant driver of revenue for the fire station. Another driver of the Fire Department’s income, gambling at the Cleveland Municipal Liquor Store, has been lost because of the current ban on in-house dining.
“[Cherry Creek Days] is also a time when people like to bring their donations to the Fire Department,” said Cleveland Fire Chief Brady Hahn. “Plus it brings people to town that do go and gamble with raffle tickets down at the bar, so financially it does cut into us a little bit.”
Nevertheless, the Fire Department has had some successes with fundraising and has given residents a taste of their cooking. On April 18, volunteer firefighters cooked up 500 pork chops for curbside pickup and delivery and sold all but 40. Hahn said that Cleveland Fire could have more events like this in the future and were planning a pulled pork feed to support the American Legion, which has also seen declining revenues amidst the coronavirus.
“It was a big success,” said Hahn. “People turned out in droves in support of us.”
Minnesota’s COVID-19 toll marched on Monday, with the Health Department reporting 591 deaths, 13 more than Sunday; 452 Minnesotans are currently hospitalized, 18 more than the prior day, although the number needing intensive care stayed relatively stable at 194.
The case count is now growing more rapidly in south central Minnesota.
Rice County cases more than tripled over the span of a week, and the county now has 114 confirmed cases and one death. Blue Earth County is next with 55 cases but zero deaths, while Steele County is up to 60 confirmed and no deaths. Le Sueur County has 29 confirmed cases and no deaths; Nicollet County 21 confirmed and two deaths; Waseca County 16 confirmed and no deaths; Goodhue County 25 confirmed; Brown County nine confirmed and one death; and Sibley County four confirmed and no deaths.
Public Health officials in Rice County noted that at least part of the recent spike in cases in the area can be attributed to a higher rate of testing. Area businesses who are screening employees each time they arrive for work is also contributing to the higher number of confirmed cases, she said.
In Steele County, a business had a cluster of employees test positive for COVID-19, according to a release from Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron.
Key decisions coming this week
The latest numbers come as Gov. Tim Walz has key policy decisions to make this week tied to the pandemic.
Walz must decide if he’ll extend orders directing people to stay-at-home as much as possible and to keep bars, restaurants and amusement venues closed to all but to-go business. Both expire next Monday.
Last week, Walz said Minnesota remains in a precarious spot with case counts and deaths on the rise. He predicted that many customers aren’t ready to dine out or gather where there are crowds.
“To do this haphazard, and I think of business owners, if you open up and it becomes clear people got sick being there, it’s every bit as damaging as a stay-at-home order. So we can’t get it wrong.”
Walz has come under fire and been sued for restrictions that have fallen unevenly on businesses. Traffic and cell phone data show people are increasingly disregarding them. He issued his initial stay-at-home and public venue orders in March.
Testing goal continues to fall short
Testing remains an ongoing concern as state officials try to strike a balance between public health and the need to restarting sectors of the economy.
Gov. Tim Walz has said testing 5,000 people every day is critical to reopening the economy and three weeks ago announced Minnesota would lead the nation in testing thanks to a “moonshot” project with Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota.
But while the state has approached 5,000 daily tests completed, it still hasn’t reached it.
And while supply shortages were faulted with limited testing in the early weeks of the outbreak, Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the capacity is there — and the initial messaging may be to blame.
“Testing’s available, and providers are telling us that people aren’t coming in. So people aren’t availing themselves of the testing capacity that’s there,” Malcolm said Friday. “And we need to do better. We need to do more outreach to make sure people know they can and should be getting tested if they have symptoms.”
Minnesota and other states have begun something of a return to normalcy, with at least 31 states partially reopening after weeks of restrictions.
But on Friday, Minnesota officials offered a sobering reminder that despite the easing of restrictions here and elsewhere, the fight against the disease is nowhere near done and the damage done is nowhere near complete.
“What I don’t think has sunk in yet, this thing is going to be with us at least until we get really good therapeutics, or we get herd immunity, or we get a vaccine,” Walz said.