Molded Fiber Glass has become the second major Aberdeen employer to report a case of coronavirus among its workforce. The wind turbine blade plant, which has been reported to employ over 400, reported over the weekend that one employee has tested positive for covid-19. Mayor Travis Schaunaman assures us we don’t have anything to worry about:
“They did report in one case, but it was a brand new hire, so I don’t anticipate spread from that employee,” Schaunaman said in an email to the American News on Sunday.
He said that MFG has proactive measures in place for screening and spread-prevention at the Aberdeen facility that manufactures blades for wind turbines [Kelda J.L. Pharris, “Brown County Adds Three Positive COVID-19 Cases; One Confirmed at MFG,” Aberdeen American News, 2020.04.19].
Friday brought news that Demkota Ranch Beef, the slaughterhouse on the opposite edge of Aberdeen that also employs hundreds of residents, has its first case of covid-19. There, too, Mayor Schaunaman says business leaders are doing everything necessary to keep us safe:
“The Department of Health was on site on Friday and I set up a meeting with DemKota, the state epidemiologist, our hospitals and medical professionals who worked on Smithfield,” Schaunaman said. “We reviewed their preventative measures and provided guidance to continue to implement new strategies as they move forward. I am confident that DemKota is much better prepared than Smithfield was given the additional guidance and time that they’ve had to prepare. The state and medical leaders want them to continue to operate with these precautionary measures” [Pharris, 2020.04.19].
As with Demkota and with Smithfield in Sioux Falls, this first positive case at MFG does not appear to be prompting an immediate shutdown.
Shutting down two of Aberdeen’s major employers for two weeks of testing and monitoring of employees would have negative economic impacts. But not shutting them down and letting the coronavirus spread to more workers, families, and neighbors will have equal if not greater negative economic impacts, says a recent MIT study:
The study, using data from the flu pandemic that swept the U.S. in 1918-1919, finds cities that acted more emphatically to limit social and civic interactions had more economic growth following the period of restrictions.
Indeed, cities that implemented social-distancing and other public health interventions just 10 days earlier than their counterparts saw a 5 percent relative increase in manufacturing employment after the pandemic ended, through 1923. Similarly, an extra 50 days of social distancing was worth a 6.5 percent increase in manufacturing employment, in a given city.
“We find no evidence that cities that acted more aggressively in public health terms performed worse in economic terms,” says Emil Verner, an assistant professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of a new paper detailing the findings. “If anything, the cities that acted more aggressively performed better” [Peter Dizikes, “The Data Speak: Stronger Pandemic Response Yields Better Economic Recovery,” MIT News, 2020.03.31].
Wind turbine blades and beef are both important to the local economy. So are the workers who make them. The most important thing those workers can be paid to do right now, for themselves and for their community, is stay home for at least two weeks.