Protection provider affords classes for preserving enterprise open throughout pandemic
Business leaders planning ways to safely get their employees back while waiting for protective COVID vaccines may turn to Mercury Systems Inc. for advice.
The aerospace and defense electronic systems provider deployed measures such as air filtration and extended sick leave to help prevent coronavirus transmission in the workplace, even as the community pandemic increased.
According to a study published Monday in Open Forum Infectious Diseases magazine, the Andover, Massachusetts-based company’s security strategies, such as mandatory rules for wearing masks and physical distancing, may serve as a model for other companies.
“This company never closed, but has applied these mitigation measures from the start and has had great results with very few diseases from COVID-19 in a large workforce,” said Monica Gandhi, professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, who helped write the research. “This study has implications for getting employees back into work,” she said as COVID-10 vaccines are rolled out.
In late February 2020, Mercury stopped international travel and urged staff to quarantine after all travel, including travel within the U.S. weeks. All travel and non-essential visitors were restricted, including interviews and new hires.
By mid-March, Mercury had issued a mandatory work-from-home policy to more than half of its employees. The policy excluded employees who were needed at the factories in Arizona, California, and New Hampshire.
According to the study, Mercury increased sick pay and overtime pay while also setting up an emergency fund for employees to help reduce stress. Isolation and quarantine times for people with COVID-19 or contact with cases have been paid for in full.
“Providing sick pay during this pandemic is extremely important in encouraging employees to stay at home who have symptoms of COVID-19 or any other illness,” Gandhi said in an email.
Approximately 10 percent of the 586 employees stayed at home with respiratory problems that could be compatible with COVID-19 from March to August. Employees were asked to report any significant illnesses to the company, and only four reported serious illnesses due to COVID-19 that had to be hospitalized during the six-month study period.
In April, Mercury began modernizing its facilities, including defining one-way walkways wherever possible, installing touchless fittings in toilets and on doors, increasing airflow through HEPA filters, and placing plexiglass signs between workbenches.
Through mid-April, Mercury has strongly recommended face masks in all facilities and during personal or outdoor activities. On April 22nd, the company began distributing KN95 masks at all locations to facilitate compliance. Until May 26, the wearing of masks with the masks distributed was mandatory for all employees at all locations, and compliance was monitored.
Mercury also began mandatory daily symptom screening for field workers. First the nurses did the screening, and then the company added a kiosk for self-screening.
The surveillance screening for COVID-19 began in July and August at all three production sites. Of the 586 employees, 44 had a positive test for SARS-CoV-2. Of 105 people with positive or inconclusive tests, 99 percent were asymptomatic at the time of the test. The positivity rates were consistent with prevalence in the community at the time, the researchers said.
They found that routine testing was not necessary to prevent COVID-19, “as masking and distancing served as appropriate non-pharmaceutical interventions for disease prevention,” Gandhi said.
Other measures Mercury has taken are:
- adapted schedules for employees on site and greater distances in offices, conference rooms and production workbenches to reduce work density;
- Employees have been required to consume food in conference rooms that are at least 3 m apart.
- developed guidelines for physical distancing, frequent hand hygiene, use of personal protective equipment and exposure protocols;
- urged staff to self-isolate if there are symptoms that may be compatible with COVID-19;
- performed a “deep clean” monthly and as needed.
Karen Haigh, a senior technologist at Mercury, was also a co-author of the paper. All facilities have remained open and productive during the pandemic, according to a statement sent by the company via email.
“We continue to take the necessary proactive steps to prepare for and respond to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Mercury. “Putting our people at the center of our decision-making has proven to be the right thing for all of the company’s stakeholders.”