Mason County businesses still feeling COVID strain
September 30, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to learn how to adapt, and almost 18 months later, those pandemic changes keep coming and businesses are getting used to having to adjust at a moment’s notice.
As of Sept. 28, the state has an indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccination status, unless you are eating or drinking at certain businesses.
President Joe Biden announced in mid-September a vaccine requirement for all businesses with more than 100 employees. The Economic Development Council of Mason County estimates this requirement affects at least 25 businesses in the county.
EDC of Mason County Executive Director Jennifer Baria said businesses just want to keep people safe and about 20 businesses out of the 4,000 businesses in Mason County will be affected by the federal requirement that aren’t already under the state requirements.
“When we talk with businesses, that is their number one focus is how do we keep our workers safe and how do we keep them employed,” Baria told the Journal. “You’ve got a lot of, especially with these different variants that are coming out and the different populations they’re affecting, you’ve got manufacturers that can’t get in product because the shipyard is shut down because whole teams now have to be quarantined because two or three people have COVID and still went to work. So it’s increasing the supply shortage we’re experiencing right now. We don’t have workers that can work specific times because either they aren’t interested, don’t want to or there’s nothing in place to really protect them.”
Safety helps products get made and keeps commerce flowing, according to Baria.
There are some businesses that are waiting for a timeline and the rules before worrying about the mandate, including Sierra Pacific Industries.
“We’re waiting to see the rules from OSHA before making any decisions,” Sierra Pacific Industries’ Lisa Perry said in a statement to the Journal.
Taylor Shellfish is also waiting for more information before acting.
“While we believe it will apply to our business, there isn't yet a specific order or timeline for its implementation,” Taylor Shellfish Director of Public Affairs Bill Dewey said to the Journal. “Until we have the details of the order and time to review and plan, we can't speculate on how we will meet its requirements.”
The seafood company was hit hard in the beginning of the pandemic due to the closing of restaurants and bars, according to Dewey. The PPP loan helped keep the company going, despite layoffs and the owners not taking a salary for a period. Online sales and people learning to prepare shellfish at home, they were able to sell their products and create a revenue stream that may not have been explored had it not been for the pandemic.
“It definitely has helped on the online sales,” Dewey said. “That happened with a lot of other shellfish companies as well. I think maybe more significantly is it got consumers comfortable preparing shellfish at home. We were already selling to the markets where they would buy shellfish, they just weren’t buying as much so now they’re buying more and preparing it at home.”
Taylor Shellfish had more than 700 employees before the pandemic and it dropped with layoffs throughout 2020, but the company has recovered to 540 employees currently. Safety requirements have been implemented as the company created a COVID response plan and it is easy to distance at the company’s farms. Taylor Shellfish also hosted a vaccination fair and offered a cash incentive to get vaccinated.
On the employee side of things, Baria said you’re starting to see people really evaluate what they want to do when it comes to their employment.
“You are seeing a shift in where workers are going and what they’re looking at and what they want, remote being a part of that,” Baria said. “There are some jobs that you just can’t remote work. You can’t be a cook at Smokin’ Mos and be like, listen, I’ll cook it at home and you can come and pick it up and we’ll call it good.”
There’s also a lack of workers in certain industries, including a transportation shortage, according to Baria, which includes truck drivers. Shelton High School is asking for more bus drivers to fill all the routes.
Supply chain issues for businesses and consumers are happening throughout Mason County, but Baria says that the resilient business owners of the county are doing what they can to stay open.
“They want to survive. They’ll take the help that they can get but they don’t want to, they went into business because they wanted to be self-sufficient, to be able to support themselves and be able to support the community,” Baria said. “They’re looking for ways to really continue to support. Our community members need to look for ways to support them.”
Baria also noted the community can help businesses in the way people treat business employees.
“The cashiers, the people in hospitality, the people working in the restaurants, they’re not the ones that have set that mandate,” Baria said. “The businesses have to follow the rules sent down by the state, otherwise they’re going to get hugely fined. Really, bringing in that grace that we have in dealing with people as we make it through.”