Local Business Reacts to Spread of Coronavirus

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — As areas of the world impacted most by the coronavirus (COVID-19) take measures to minimize its spread – up to and including businesses idling and employees working from home – for certain industries it’s not that easy.

Manufacturing and food service are two industries that require workers to be on-hand to keep revenue coming in. A round of phone calls to area employers is finding that these industries in particular plan to maintain business as usual, even as event cancelations begin to toccur.

“In the last two days, we’ve had three events that were scheduled for over the next month that either rescheduled or are rescheduling, and one that was canceled,” says Joe Rzonsa, owner of Blue Wolf Tavern, Boardman, and Blue Wolf Events at The Maronite Center, Youngstown.

Rzonsa attributes the impact on his events business to recommendations by Gov. Mike DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health, who advised that large, indoor gatherings be canceled or postponed due to the potential for coronavirus exposure. On Tuesday, DeWine and Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton addressed specific recommendations and orders for higher education, K-12 schools, athletics, general large gatherings, religious institutions, nursing homes and adult and juvenile correctional facilities.

As for other entertainment events, so far everything scheduled in the next week will proceed as planned, with one exception: the March 18 presentation by Bill Nye at Stambaugh Auditorium, sponsored by Youngstown State University, has been canceled.

The next concert in Youngstown is the March 12 appearance by Christian pop act Newsboys at Stambaugh Auditorium, which will go on as planned with measures being taken to minimize risk.

“Stambaugh Auditorium is putting every available resource into making sure the facility is constantly being cleaned and disinfected throughout its rotation of events,” says Michael McGiffin, spokesman for the venue, in a statement. “We ask that everyone help prevent the spread of illness by following the CDC’s recommendations.”

Those recommendations deal with hand-washing, sneezing, touching the face, avoiding contact with those who are ill and staying home if ill.

Oh Wow! Children’s Science Center in Youngstown will also remain open, says Executive Director Suzanne Barbati.

“We are meeting the CDC guidelines and we’ve always done that,” Barbati says. “We have a crew that cleans every day and disinfects throughout the day, and we have added another layer, a disinfecting task, in which we use Clorox wipes on doorknobs, light switches, anything people would touch on a regular basis, including flat surfaces where people sit to eat, and we encourage guests to wash their hands. We decided not to close in large part because people choose to come here, and are not required to.”

The coming weekend will see several large St. Patrick’s Day parties, and so far none have announced cancelations.

Kravitz Deli in Liberty has added features for those who just want to purchase reuben sandwiches and avoid crowds. Grill it yourself sandwiches will be sold on March 16, and a food truck will sell the items in the parking lot on St. Patrick’s Day.

As recommendations continue to be made by state officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Blue Wolf’s Rzonsa says he expects to see a greater impact on both the catering side of his business and the restaurant, the latter of which hasn’t been affected as of yet. That may change, however, as the months after the Easter holiday season through May “are the biggest months of the year,” he says.

“Certainly that trend will increase this week based on the local news coverage on this,” he adds.

Kiraly Tool and Die Inc. hasn’t seen any impact beyond having a few meetings canceled, says Kyle Kiraly, controller. The company employs 24 machinists and is holding off on any drastic measures for the time being, he says.

“We’re waiting to see what all trickles down. We don’t have too much of an option other than to continue working,” Kiraly says.

The manufacturer is “pretty well equipped to keep running” should 25% of its workforce call in sick, he says.

“The way we structure ourselves is we have a decent amount of cross training done where if a couple guys called off, we would have no real issues. We could move guys and move things around so machinists could run more than one machine at a time,” he says. “We work with a lot of our guys to ensure they have a full pack and nobody is going hungry or unable to pay their bills.”

However, if half of the workforce called in sick, that’s when the company would see some pain, he says.

Blue Wolf’s Rzonsa agrees and says there is no plan as of yet to keep staff at home. However, the restaurant could take some measures to minimize any exposure to coronavirus, such as closing off a portion of the restaurant, or keeping the full restaurant open but capping the number of diners it can hold at a time, allowing customers to have more space around them, he says.

“If we don’t have revenue, we wouldn’t be able to pay people, including myself,” Rzonsa says. “We’re ready to take direction from the CDC and the local board of health if and when something comes up.”

Blue Wolf Tavern employs 65 to 70 full- and part-time workers, while Blue Wolf Events employs 12, he says. The restaurant industry is held to a higher standard than other industries, so “we’re already taking tremendous precautionary measures” to keep staff and customers healthy and safe, he says.

All staff are expected to continually wash their hands throughout the day, and three to four hand sanitizer stations are available for staff and customers in each room of the restaurant, he says. Because hand sanitizer is proprietary for food service establishments, Blue Wolf can order it wholesale, ensuring a lasting supply, he says.

There is also an increased awareness of visible symptoms, he says. If any employee shows signs of being ill, they are excused immediately.

“They may not return to work until they’ve been cleared by a medical professional and they’re symptom-free,” he says. “We take that very seriously always.”

Because illnesses increase this time of year regardless, Blue Wolf also increases its cleaning and sanitation, including an interim deep clean done throughout the day that cleans and sanitizes “just about every area of the restaurant, dining room and back of the house,” he notes.

Such precautionary measures are also taken at locations for the Mocha House and Coaches Burger Bar, owners say.

Coaches takes guidance from ServSafe, a national food and beverage safety training and certificate program conducted by the U.S. National Restaurant Association, says its co-owner, Stacy Howlett. All of Coaches’ general managers are certified by the program and ensure staff follow its guidelines, she says in a statement. “With people feeling anxious right now, we reiterate daily all of the measures we are expected to take. It is and will continue to be a top focus with or without the current circumstances.”

Mocha House downtown hasn’t had to send any workers home yet, says Kalli Georgalos, co-owner. While the company is feeling “a little bit of an effect” already with Eastern Gateway Community College and Youngstown State University taking measures to minimize the possibility for spreading coronavirus, the impact hasn’t been substantial.

“We felt a little bit of a ripple effect from that,” she says. “It hasn’t been completely dead or anything like that, so thankfully everybody still comes to visit us.”

Visit BusinessJournalDaily.com Thursday morning for extended coverage of how area employers are preparing for the coronavirus.

Guy D’Astolfo, Marah Morrison and Dan Hiner contributed to this report.

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