By Dan McCaleb | The Center Square
(The Center Square) – President Donald Trump invited some of the top leaders in business and industry to the White House Wednesday for a discussion on how to safely begin reopening parts of the economy that have been devastated by stay-home orders in response to COVID-19.
More than 26 million Americans filed unemployment claims over the past five weeks as states and cities effectively closed businesses deemed non-essential with the stay-home orders.
“America is ready to get back to work,” Trump said.
Chris Nassetta, president and CEO of Hilton, said the hotel industry is working on ways to improve conditions, including following best practices for cleaning rooms, so visitors will feel safe.
“We have been trying at Hilton and as an industry to open in a safe and healthy way,” Nassetta said. “On the reopening of our business, what we realize is that people do want to get out, they want to be doing it in a way that is safe … but they do want to get out.”
The industry is working with top health officials across the country on protocols to “develop the best health and hygiene standards so when they stay in our hotels, they feel safe,” he said. “We stand ready as Hilton, and we stand ready as an industry to help get America open and moving again.”
Walt Ehmer, president and CEO of Waffle House, said no other industry has been hit harder with layoffs and furloughs than restaurants due to the stay-home orders, but he’s confident restaurants can slowly reopen with the proper precautions.
“We did have the opportunity this week in the state of Georgia and in the state of Tennessee to open up our dining rooms to dine-in customers again,” Ehmer said. “It was very welcomed by our people, it was welcome by our customers. … We did it in a safe way.”
Georgia and Tennessee are among the first states to ease restrictions on residents and businesses.
Ehmer said the industry will follow federal guidelines, which include using throwaway menus, single-service condiments, and disposable forks, knives, spoons and dishes. The guidelines also include the installation of sneeze guards at cash registers, a limit on the number of employees on a shift and the number of customers allowed in, and removing buffets, salad bars and drink stations.
Chris Reynolds, CAO of manufacturing and corporate services at Toyota, said his company suspended production March 18 and plans a slow reopening beginning May 11.
Since the suspension, Reynolds said Toyota has been preparing for a safe return to production. Toyota has been holding weekly phone calls with employees to check on their health and on their confidence levels in returning to work
Employees also have been shown previews of what the new workplace will look like.
“We shared pictures of the reconfigured factory workplace so they can have confidence that we’re doing everything possible” to keep them safe, Reynolds said.
The company “prepared plants for safe and healthy working, marked off areas that provide for social distancing” will provide masks and face shields where appropriate, conduct daily temperature screens of workers and apply other best practices.
“It will be a slow gradual reopening” with staggered shifts and other protections in place for workers, Reynolds said.