Pyramid Mountain Lumber comments on COVID-19 cases
February 11, 2021
SEELEY LAKE - In mid-December, Pyramid Mountain Lumber, Inc. was alerted to the presence of positive COVID-19 cases among its employees. In about a three-week period, the mill saw eight positive cases, a majority of which were office personnel or exposed to office personnel. This is the area with the most exposure to the general public. Pyramid’s Human Resources Director was notified of the first case Dec. 13.
Controller Wendy Dalrymple said that in addition to the positive cases, five employees, three in the office and two in the mill, had to quarantine because they were considered close contacts. All employees who were out either after testing positive or being a close contact in mid- to late-December were back to work by the first day of 2021.
Up until November, the company had experienced two or three employees testing positive for COVID, none of which had any close contacts associated with the mill.
When Pyramid became aware of the positive cases at the facility, employees were reminded to not congregate during breaks and that if they had to be close to someone else that they wear a mask. In addition, office doors were locked and all non-employees were required to call rather than come inside. Production employees were discouraged from coming into the office unless absolutely necessary. Office employees that could, were asked to work remotely.
Dalrymple does not believe there is anything more the company could have done to further minimize spread.
“We followed all health department protocols and made sure we were cleaning as best we could and having our employees maintain social distancing,” she said. “Once we had such a high number of cases in December, we did discuss shutting down for a week to limit the spread as much as we could. However, after that one week, we did not have any additional positive cases and did not have to take further action to prevent additional spread of the virus.”
She said that the company was lucky to not have been financially impacted by the outbreak.
“No one department was completely shut down due to lack of manpower,” she said. “We were pretty shorthanded for a couple weeks, but we were able to use our healthy employees to continue production, shipping and sales.”
When the pandemic first became prevalent in Montana in early 2020, Pyramid closed breakrooms to prevent employees from gathering in smaller areas. Employees were encouraged to take their breaks at their workstations, in their vehicles or in the parking areas. As the weather became colder, additional indoor break areas were made available where employees could socially distance.
Because few production employees work together in close proximity to each other, they do not have to wear masks for the most part. They were encouraged to stay home if they were not feeling well. Supervisors were provided extra cleaning supplies to sanitize frequently touched areas like clocks, restroom surfaces and doorknobs.
The biggest exposure the company faced was with their shipping department, due to the several interactions employees had with truck drivers. Previously drivers entered the scale shack to obtain their vehicle weight and then went into the office to take care of paperwork.
To adapt to this, Pyramid installed their scale software on the shipping office computers so staff could read the truck weight directly from their desks. This allowed drivers to stay in their vehicles and call the office to get their empty and loaded weights. When the paperwork was processed, the driver exchanged the appropriate documents at the walk-up window. Dalrymple said in a May interview with the Pathfinder that this policy change has streamlined their operation and will most likely continue post-pandemic.
Dalrymple advises that other business leaders should provide employees with as much information as possible regarding Health Department rules and regulations as well as what the company is doing to keep employees safe. Anyone with questions should reach out to the County Health Department directly. Leaders should also remember that all medical information is protected by HIPAA laws meaning that information regarding employees is confidential and cannot be shared with other employees or the general public.
Looking towards the future, the company is continuing to follow all Missoula County Health Department regulations including making masks and hand sanitizer available to employees.
In their weekly newsletter, Pyramid reminds employees of the rules in place and the importance of following the mask mandate. The main office remains closed to the general public. Anyone who has permission to enter the facility must sign in, complete a COVID-19 questionnaire and wear a mask.