Metal supplier for respirator masks among businesses exempt from shutdown

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Ulbrich Steel & Specialty Metals of North Haven was in talks Monday with N95 mask makers about the local supplier’s role in helping end the dangerous shortage of masks now impacting health care workers.

Chief Executive Officer Chris Ulbrich quoted prices to manufacturers interested in the stamped metal product used to make the fine particle respirator masks now in demand.

“I had suppliers in the medical, power generation, aerospace (fields) calling and saying ‘Are you going to be open?’” Ulbrich said. “All plants are operating worldwide. One third of our metals go to critical infrastructure.”

The state’s manufacturing sector was spared any disruption Monday, when the Lamont administration released a list of essential businesses exempt from shutting down at 8 p.m. to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

The executive order is part of what the governor is calling the "Stay Safe, Stay at Home" campaign to slow the virus’ spread.

The order asks that non-essential business employees continue to telecommute or work from home.

Lamont said the closures could last for weeks, though residents will be able to leave their homes for critical services and functions.

"This is tough medicine," the governor said. "I think it’s right the medicine."

Garrett Sheehan, chief executive officer of the New Haven and Quinnipiac chambers of commerce, called the administration’s list “very flexible and very reasonable.”

“Our number one goal is stopping the spread of this virus... It looks like the state is going to do a balancing act and still have economic activity going on,” Sheehan said in an address to chamber members on Sunday night. “It impacts a lot of different businesses, but there are a lot of exemptions.”

Manufacturing of all products and supply chains are exempt from the shutdown which had been a concern for some businesses several days ago.

The guidance reads, “All manufacturing and corresponding supply chains, including aerospace, agriculture, and related support businesses,” said Joe Budd, a spokesman for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. “We interpret that to mean the state considers all manufacturing companies to be essential as it relates to the governor’s March 20 executive order.”

The exemption list covers a broad range of public and commercial services under the 16 critical infrastructure sectors defined by the Department of Homeland Security.

They include emergency services, food and agriculture, energy, manufacturing, water and wastewater systems, news media and communications, transportation, financial services etc. 

The list includes gas stations, pharmacies, grocery stores, big box stores, auto shops, pet and pet supply stores and child care businesses.

The list also includes convenience stores, laundromats and dry cleaners, landscaping services, bicycle repair shops, liquor stores and real estate businesses.

Place not type

Clothing retailers such as Kohl’s on South Broad Street in Wallingford have shut down stores but remain open for online orders. Sally’s Beauty Supply, located in the same plaza, is also shut down.  Aldi grocery store is considered an essential business and remains open.

Townline Square in Meriden offers a look at who is and isn’t considered non-essential retail. The Edge fitness enter closed last week, and Jersey Mike’s is open for take out only. Pet Smart, which is considered exempt with other pet retailers, is open but scheduled to close March 29 for reasons unrelated to the pandemic. 

Vitamin and supplement retailer GNC is open, while Game Stop is open for online orders only. Bath & Body Works is closed, as is Weight Watchers. Once Upon a Child is closed, as is Burlington Coat Factory and Marshall’s. T-Mobile, has reduced hours, and Big Y Supermarket is open.

The state’s guidance also lists non-profit providers of basic necessities to economically disadvantaged populations including food banks, homeless shelters and congregate care facilities, as well as construction services, government vendors and defense contractors.

Businesses with one employee can continue to operate, and are allowed to have a staff person pick up mail or provide security.

“It’s about places of business, not the type of business,” Sheehan said. “It’s where the work takes place. Any business can go on as long as you can telecommute or work from home. For non-essential retailers, if customers want to order online they can switch to curbside remote ordering.”

Ulbrich Steel is sanitizing the building and equiipment following every shift, Ulbrich said. It is also practicing social distancing. Several employees are on quarentine and employees much stay home if sick. Some require testing before returning. The precautions appear to be working, Ulbrich said. 

“We’re in good shape,” Ulbrich said. “We are very critical to infrastructure and our suppliers are open nationwide. Let’s hope we can continue.”
Twitter: @Cconnbiz

Who are considered essential workers? Read the guidelines.

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