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Paola firefighter Jeff VanDonsel uses a foam hand sanitizer dispenser inside the Paola Fire Station. VanDonsel suggested installing similar dispensers inside his workplace at Reliance Label Solutions in Paola. Businesses throughout the area have been adjusting policies to combat spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Pat Flaherty is always on the lookout for a good informational topic to highlight during monthly training sessions with his staff at Reliance Label Solutions in Paola.

A few years ago, he brought in an expert to discuss how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and how they can impact the workplace.

Now, with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spreading across the globe, Flaherty would like to bring the expert back for another training session. There’s just one problem.

“They’re booked solid,” Flaherty said.

As news of the pandemic continues to make headlines, businesses everywhere are scrambling to create and update policies regarding topics ranging from personal hygiene and office cleaning procedures to employees working from home or off-site.

Flaherty said he’s implemented a number of precautions at Reliance Label Solutions, including limiting vendor access to the building, canceling sales visits, limiting travel and purchasing hand sanitizer foam dispenser stations to install throughout the facility.

The hand sanitizer dispenser idea came from Reliance employee Jeff VanDonsel, who is also a member of the Paola Fire Department. VanDonsel said a dispenser is set up inside the Paola Fire Station, and he thought it would be a great fit for the Reliance Label Solutions building.

Flaherty realizes that some of the actions could have a negative impact on the company’s bottom line, but he also realizes that most of the larger chemical companies that are their biggest customers have already implemented similar precautions.

On a national level, some of the country’s largest employers, including Google and Twitter, have directed most of their employees to work from home for the time being.

“We understand that this is an unprecedented step, but these are unprecedented times,” a Twitter representative stated in a blog post.

Miami County Economic Development Director Janet McRae is urging local business owners to create emergency plans to help better prepare for situations such as the coronavirus pandemic.

She recently posted a link on the Miami County Economic Development department’s Facebook page to the Small Business Administration, which offers emergency preparedness training and disaster assistance programs.

Andy Fisher, the store manager at Paola’s Walmart, is learning firsthand how to adapt to changing customer needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Hand sanitizer, soap and cleaning products seemed to be the first things to start selling quickly as news of the virus spread, but Fisher said his crews worked hard to keep the shelves stocked.

Now, though, the biggest issue is toilet paper, which customers are purchasing in bulk in preparation for possible future home quarantines.

“People are buying it as soon as we stock the shelves,” Fisher said.

In order to make things easier, Fisher said paper towels, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies have been moved to the front of the store, greeting customers as they walk into Walmart.

Hand sanitizer has also been placed at every checkout station, Fisher said.

Beginning Sunday, March 15, Walmart stores across the country shortened their hours of operation to 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. to give employees time to restock the shelves overnight and clean the stores. Paola’s Walmart was no exception.

Some local companies are adjusting their policies and procedures to keep people safe.

Beethoven’s No. 9 restaurant in Paola announced Thursday, March 12, on its Facebook page that it was taking precautionary measures to go above and beyond in its effort to make sure patrons are safe. They offered carry-out and delivery service only on Thursday while they cleaned and sanitized the entire restaurant. They were back to offering both dine-in and carry-out services Friday.

Many other restaurants across the country have either closed or changed to drive-thru service only, including McDonald’s and Taco Bell.

Local residents will likely notice extra precautions taking place in multiple locations, even during church services on Sunday morning.

Effective Wednesday, March 11, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas directed all pastors to adopt a variety of changes at their parish during the celebration of mass, including draining the holy water fonts, suspending the exchange of the sign of peace, suspending the distirbution of the Precious Blood during Holy Communion and no hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer.

On Friday, March 13, Naumann dispensed the faithful of the Archdiocese from the obligation to attend Sunday Mass. He did state, though, that masses will remain open to the public.

Editor and Publisher Brian McCauley can be reached at (913) 294-2311 or brian.mccauley@miconews.com.

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