LEWISTON — Geiger could shut off its lights on Mount Hope Avenue and still carry on the company if everyone worked from home.

Geiger President and CEO Jo-an Lantz is pictured in the top left corner during a video conference with colleagues on the company’s Pandemic Preparedness Team. They talk three times a week for 15 minutes from all over the U.S. and Europe, staying updated on the latest developments in the COVID-19 spread, Lantz said. Contributed photo

President and CEO Jo-an Lantz hopes that doesn’t happen, but they’ve planned for it just in case.

Geiger, the largest family-owned and managed promotional products distributor in the world, has had a pandemic preparation plan since the H1N1 virus 10 years ago.

In early February, as the coronavirus disease quickened its spread around the globe, Lantz said the company decided, “OK, let’s activate it and let’s start paying attention.”

In Auburn, The Strainrite Companies, filtration manufacturers with a worldwide market, have formed a pandemic prep team to monitor events and canceled all international travel company-wide as a precaution, according to staff.

Lisa G. Martin, executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Maine, said she had another company tell her this week that one of its clients required a company employee to sign a document attesting that he had not traveled to any countries with a high level of COVID-19 exposure before he could enter their facility.

“(If) you have people involved with overseas travel, you have supply chain issues that originate from the Pacific side, I’m sure there are people that are already taking steps,” said Peter Gore, executive vice president at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “Households are also thinking about this. Everyone’s thinking about it.”

He reached out to the Maine Department of Labor this week, ready to relay advice to chamber members if need be, after hearing about other state chambers around the country doing the same.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control counted 80 COVID-19 cases in the U.S. in 13 states including New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Originating in Wuhan, China, it’s been detected in almost 70 countries and territories, more than double the number last week, and killed thousands.

How fast it will spread and where is unknown, but the CDC has said it’s likely to turn into a pandemic.

The Maine DOL on Wednesday pointed Maine employers to the CDC’s guidance for businesses in a mass email after “receiving questions about what businesses can do in the wake of COVID-19.”

It included encouraging sick employees to stay home, providing disposable wipes to clean common surfaces throughout the day, adopting flexible sick policies and considering cross-training personnel.

Lantz at Geiger is part of that company’s Pandemic Preparedness Team, holding three-times-a-week video conferences with 11 others from around the U.S. and Europe.

“For example, (Monday’s) huddle, in our London office, we learned that there was one incident of coronavirus diagnosed in the actual town our office is in, with a second in a neighboring town,” Lantz said. “We have protocol what to do now that it’s closer to their area.”

As a precaution, they’ve canceled any travel to Asia and other international and domestic trips are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

She said Geiger’s been regularly updating employees in newsletters and videos, “here is what we know, here is what the impact is so far.” It has policies and infrastructure in place to allow employees to work from home if, for instance, a school shuts down for cleaning or the entire headquarters had to shut down.

“We’re preparing for everything and hoping for the best,” Lantz said. “Our number one priority is health and safety.”

Other COVID-19 news in Maine

• Central Maine Healthcare on Tuesday tightened its visiting policy, restricting all children under age 12 and asking adults with respiratory symptoms not to visit patients at its hospitals or long-term care facilities.

“Our priority is to protect our patients, staff and families, as well as the broader community,” Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Alexander said in a press release. “We know that people can be infected and transmit viruses unknowingly, so we’ve decided to err on the side of caution.”

• The University of Maine System is prohibiting travel to China, South Korea, Iran and Italy and telling students studying abroad on its website to “return to the United States immediately if you have concerns regarding the virus and your safety. Our faculty and academic leaders will work on a case-by-case basis, if necessary, to assist students returning home early and on a volunteer basis with academic accommodations to complete their course of study.”

• The Maine Community College System hasn’t issued any travel bans or restrictions, according to a spokesperson.

“At the moment, we have two students studying in Ireland, which is not currently under a State Department travel advisory,” said Noel Gallagher. “We are monitoring the situation closely and are in contact with the students.”

Bates College has convened a Senior Emergency Response Group. No students are in China this semester and three students studying abroad in Italy are finishing the semester in the U.S., according to Bates’ website. College-sponsored trips to China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, with CDC Level 3 travel warnings, are currently suspended.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.