Two associates at TPI Composites, the largest employer in Jasper County with more than 1,000 people employed in the Newton plant, have tested positive for COVID-19. Officials at the wind turbine blade manufacturing facility learned Thursday of their fellow employees’ diagnoses.
Josh Syhlman, general manager of TPI Iowa, said both workers have been required to self-quarantine at home for about 14 days. Staff also traced the 48 hours prior to those two associates becoming symptomatic and notified workers who meet the guidelines beset by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for close contact.
They, too, have been asked to quarantine themselves. Syhlman said any associates under a company-mandated quarantine will receive full pay.
“We’re doing our due diligence, so to speak, to make sure we protect our associates,” Syhlman said.
Preventative measures have been in place at TPI for about around month, similar to other businesses and industries across the county and state.
Syhlman said TPI continues to temperature screen all associates at the door when they enter the building, located at 2300 N. 33rd E. Anyone with a fever above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit is not allowed into the facility, which has also been closed to visitors for some time.
All visitors that enter the building have to be approved by Syhlman. Since the pandemic, about 50 TPI employees have been able to work remotely and performance tasks from their homes.
“Some of those are engineers that are kind of on a rotation in and out of the plant,” Syhlman said. “Working remotely, that’s not necessarily to protect those 50 associates — indirectly it does — but it’s more about limiting the number of people that are going into the plant every day.”
Social distancing has also been addressed at TPI. The nature of the manufacturing work itself lends itself well to promoting social distancing since the blades are so large. But in cases where staff cannot distance themselves by six feet, it has been mandated workers wear N95 respiratory masks.
“We’ve got a lot of things in place, and we continue to get better at it and evolve as this continues,” Syhlman said.
TPI does not anticipate the positive cases to inhibit its operations. Shifts have not been changed due to the pandemic, but what the manufacturer has done is staggered breaks and lunches to minimize the number of people in the break rooms at any given time to promote social distancing.
The employer has also replaced its water coolers with bottled water. TPI also has a cleaning contractor and have increased sanitizing efforts. All work areas are sanitized once every 24 hours, including the railings on the molds and tools. At a minimum, all commonly touched surfaces are being disinfected.
“This was in place way before these two positive cases,” Syhlman said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the manufacturing facility very much, Syhlman added. As a contract manufacturer, the plant has agreed to produce a certain number of wind turbine blades for General Electric this year and that has not changed.
The plant’s employees regularly use Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) vehicles to travel to the TPI plant in Newton. Syhlman said it is difficult to promote social distancing in a transit system vehicle. However, TPI contacted DART and increased its fleet by 20 percent to allow for socially distanced rides.
“We also have alcohol wipes in those vans and disinfecting all the internal surfaces once a day,” Syhlman said. “So (TPI) is trying to do everything we possibly can to keep our associates safe. It’s unprecedented times. It’s scary stuff for everybody, and we just want our associates to feel safe.”
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or firstname.lastname@example.org