After weeks of limiting face-to-face contact with members to help reduce the risks of COVID-19 exposure, some electric cooperatives are resuming lobby services and other activities at their headquarters and district offices as states ease shelter-in-place restrictions.
Precautionary signage, protective screening and limited access are among the most common tools being used to help protect co-op members, visitors and staff.
Co-ops are following the leads of governors, their local elected officials and public health agencies in making reopening decisions. They are also referencing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s a look at how some co-ops are cautiously re-opening:
Signs of a New Normal
After closing its lobbies in mid-March and its drive-thru service in early April,
Flint Energies in Reynolds, Georgia, will re-open both by May 13.
The distribution co-op has taken several steps to keep staff and members informed of all changes, said Marian McLemore, vice president of cooperative communications, who oversees programs run from the co-op’s member center.
“We have added tons of signage, especially to our lobby doors and yard,” she said. “We have barriers in place directing the traffic flow in the lobbies, one way in, one way out. Floor stickers reinforcing the 6-foot social distancing guideline between members have also been installed.”
Southwest Louisiana EMC re-opens, its lobby will have rope barriers and separation stickers on the floor to keep people 6-feet apart, said Carlotta Lamartina, member services manager for the co-op headquartered in Lafayette.
“When we reopen, hand sanitizer will be placed on every employee’s desk and masks will be worn upfront at all times in our customer lobby,” she said.
All SLEMCO employees have been trained for proper mask use, and masks are required when employees meet face-to-face, a practice that will be discouraged unless absolutely necessary.
COVID-19 concerns prompted an abrupt end to paperwork for all co-op transactions, and digital interactions will continue even after pandemic concerns diminish, Lamartina said.
Grand Valley Power in Grand Junction, Colorado, re-opened its lobby to members on May 11, with new protection against COVID-19, said communications manager Christmas Wharton.
“New hand sanitizer stations have been installed around the building, including the lobby, and we have modified the flow of traffic to minimize points of contact as much as possible,” she said. “We’ve also installed plexiglass barriers at the member services worktable and hand- washing window decals to remind visitors and employees of best practices to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
Tables and chairs in breakrooms and the lobby have been eliminated or reduced to discourage congregating. Magazines, candy dishes and pens and pencils are also gone from common areas.
“We’ll continue to enforce ‘stay at home’ recommendations for anyone showing symptoms or signs of illness or known to have been in contact with those who’ve tested positive for exposure to the coronavirus,” Wharton said. “We’re requiring that employees who come in contact with members wear nonmedical cloth face coverings over their mouths and noses.”
Grand Valley Power also continues to restrict nonessential travel, limit in-person meetings to 10 participants or less and stagger work schedules for employees. The co-op said it will remain flexible with alternative work arrangements for employees with family obligations or those with underlying conditions that are at greater risk.
Victory Electric Cooperative remains cautious.
“We're going to be opening back up the office soon, but we want to be as safe as possible because we know Ford County is a hotspot and we still haven't hit our peak yet,” said Jerri Whitley, vice president of communications at the Dodge City-based co-op.
Under Phase 1 of the Reopen Kansas Plan, many restrictions for businesses were lifted May 4 with guidelines for social distancing. The co-op’s offices, closed since March 17, could resume full operations immediately, but Victory EC management is taking its time to get it right because of the high number of cases in Ford County, said Whitley.
“We're making plans for how it's going to look to open the lobby back up, and a lot of the extra steps we plan to implement are to protect both the members and our employees,” she said.
“We’ve put stanchions up in the lobby to guide people in one entrance and out another, and our employees are behind glass with speakers so there's that extra level of protection. Anyone who enters the lobby will be required to stay 6 feet apart, wear a mask, and follow directions placed on signs and floor stickers.”