The record flood of coronavirus cases in the U.S. in recent weeks hasn’t triggered a traumatizing nationwide lockdown like it did in the spring, but many businesses and their workers are hurting again.
Some people are even calling in sick or not showing up for fear of catching the virus.
The latest wave of Covid-19 cases has pushed many cities and states to partially reimpose restrictions on hours or limits on customer numbers for businesses such as bars and restaurants that cater to large groups of people. In some cases residents have been advised to stay home.
The result has been an increase in business closures as well as more layoffs. U.S. weekly initial jobless benefit claims, for instance, climbed to a five-week high in late November.
More evidence of the damage being done was evident inside the latest survey of manufacturers by the Institute for Supply Management. Manufacturers have recovered faster than other businesses and been largely unaffected by government restrictions because they operate in closed environments. Yet the latest viral wave is also giving them grief.
ISM said companies are under strain from “absenteeism, short-term shutdowns to sanitize facilities and difficulties in returning and hiring workers.”
Timothy Fiore, chairman of the survey, said manufacturers have found it hard to maintain current staffing levels because of the viral outbreak. Partly as a result production dipped in November.
Some workers in the middle or later stages of their careers, he said, have stayed away to avoid catching the disease. Older people are more at risk from the virus.
To keep workers safe and mollify their concerns, companies have closed some plants temporarily to sanitize them.
“It’s become much more difficult to operate in this environment,” Fiore said.
The good news? Coronavirus vaccines are likely to be available soon, and in the case of manufacturers, they are growing so fast despite the virus that they would be hiring more workers anyway.
The problem is finding them: There’s not enough qualified people who want to work in manufacturing to fill all the jobs that are open now or will be in the near future.
” It’s not a lack of work but a lack of people,” Fiore said.