Essity has seen demand for its products explode during the coronavirus pandemic, and the plant and its roughly 500 employees are working around the clock to provide them.

Essity, formerly SCA Tissue, produces paper napkins, paper towels and bath tissue for nursing homes, hospitals, stores, transportation stops and other commercial applications, said Bryan Dyar, human resources manager for the facility at Barton Riverfront Industrial Park.

"We're running wide open," Dyar said — 24 hours a day, seven days a week just to meet demand.

Kevin Jackson, executive director of the Shoals Economic Development Authority, said Shoals manufacturing companies continue to operate but with added safety in mind. 

"So far, I know everybody is open and practicing safe social distancing and taking all the precautions they can in the defined work space they need," Jackson said.

He said many Shoals manufacturers are providing essential services and have to remain open.

"I think they're just trying to be careful and cautious," Jackson said.

He mentioned two Shoals clothing manufacturers — Alabama Chanin and OnPoint Manufacturing — that have begun to make substitute surgical masks.

OnPoint Manufacturing President and CEO Kirby Best said the company employs about 50 people in Florence. He said about 90% of their team is now sewing masks.

Best said they had one order for 30,000 masks and another for 50,000. He said they can sew about 3,000 masks per day.

"We have one of the most advanced cut and sew operations in the world right here in Florence, Alabama," Best said.

He said the company switched its focus from high-end clothing to masks on Sunday. Officials expect to continue producing masks for as long as 45 days.  

Best said employees are able to spread out and maintain safe social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. They also check employees' temperatures before they enter the building, and have a "wipe-down protocol" as well.

Most of their sewing machines are operated by only one person, Best said.

The company can also make surgical gowns, but has not yet received orders for that product.

Ashley Bush, director of Communication and Employee Engagement for Southwire Company, a leading manufacturer of wire and cable, said the company is monitoring the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and other health officials to help ensure the safety of its roughly 335 employees.

"Our work at Southwire is critical in the fight against COVID-19," Bush said. "We are an important piece of the supply chain for many essential businesses and markets. The solutions we create are vital to critical infrastructure, and the energy provided by our products is necessary for the medical professionals who are working around the clock to staff hospitals and emergency facilities to combat this disease."

The company is emphasizing social distancing, proper handwashing protocol, and has increased efforts to sanitize frequently touched areas.

"Earlier this month, we enacted precautionary measures, including requiring approvals for all business-related travel; limiting on-site visits from external parties; ensuring CDC compliance with vendors and contractors; and asking employees not to attend large trade shows, conferences or similar large events," Bush said.

"We have also moved into remote work environments where applicable."

Dyar said Essity was able to prepare for the pandemic because the company has facilities in other parts of the world that have already dealt with the virus. The company's headquarters are based in Sweden.

"The company has been very proactive and implemented an 80-hour emergency sick leave for all employees," Dyar said. "Any employee who is diagnosed with COVID-19 would be paid that, as well as anyone who has been taken off work by us for symptoms related to COVID-19."

Dyar said the way the plant is laid out allows employees to practice social distancing. Additional break areas have been created, he said.

"The employees have been so responsive and so concerned that they do what they need to do in order to keep the job running because they know how bad our products are needed now," Dyar said. 

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