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NCTO Asks White House to Keep Factories Open Amid Outbreak

The national emergency over the coronavirus pandemic has textile manufacturers and retailers asking the White House to clarify what exactly counts as “essential.”

U.S. textile and nonwoven associations issued a joint statement Thursday urging federal, state and local governments to deem textile and nonwoven manufacturing facilities as “essential” when drafting “Shelter in Place” orders in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our associations recognize the serious challenges our elected officials, health administrators and others are facing when issuing orders to protect communities across the country and we understand the necessity for leaders to enforce a ‘Shelter in Place” order or quarantine orders,” the National Council of Textile Organizations, the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry and the Industrial Fabrics Association International said.

“Our members make a broad range of inputs and finished products used in an array of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical nonwoven/textile supplies, including surgical gowns, face masks, antibacterial wipes, lab coats, blood pressure cuffs, cotton swabs and hazmat suits,” the groups said. “These items are vital to the government’s effort to ramp up emergency production of these critical supplies.”

They stressed that if workers who produce these goods are not granted an “essential” exemption from “Shelter in Place” and other quarantine orders to go to their manufacturing and distribution facilities, stakeholders can expect major disruptions in the availability of these goods. This will create significant hardship to healthcare providers and consumers across the country who depend on steady and stable supplies of these critical items, they added.

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“We are asking the administration and state and local authorities to provide greater certainty and clarity for our companies and employees, and ask for a clear exclusion of our manufacturing operations from “Shelter in Place” orders, as the textile and nonwoven products that we make in the U.S. play an essential role in mitigating the shortages of critical supplies,” the associations said. “Such a designation will help us avoid disruptions of vital goods and services during this challenging time.”

The retail industry needs answers, too.

Also on Thursday, the National Retail Association (NRF) sent a letter to President Trump and administration officials urging the federal government to produce national guidance for state and local governments seeking to clarify “essential retail businesses and services” for their communities.

The lack of uniformity throughout the country is “leading to cascading negative impacts on communities,” NRF said. “Our members report that towns, cities and counties are deviating from instructions offered by governors and state agencies.”

Among the confusing and misleading edicts, NRF said that several jurisdictions have overlooked the important role distribution centers and transportation logistic companies play in the retail industry, and that truck drivers and logistics companies need access to federal and state highway rest areas.

“Regrettably, some states have chosen to close rest areas they control, while setting overly stringent curfews on these critical workforces serving our communities,” NRF said. “When state and local governments give blanket orders to ‘close non-essential retail’ and ‘limit mass gatherings to 50 people,’ it causes panic and alarm. Consumers then swarm retailers, which exhausts existing supplies and overwhelms employees.”

NRF asked the administration to clarify Centers for Disease Control (CDC) instructions to limit gatherings to less than 50 people and that it should be relaxed or exempted for large-format grocery stores, big-box retail and wholesale clubs. Facilities with significant square footage can adequately accommodate more than 50 shoppers, while effectively managing social distancing practices among customers and employees, the group added.

“Additionally, we request that your administration issue guidance to clarify ‘essential retail businesses’ at a national level,” NRF said. “The time has come to strike the right balance.”

NRF recommended examples as a model for any state or local government directives. They include that grocery stores, convenience stores and other establishments engaged in the retail sale or provision of food, pet supply, big-box stores, wholesale clubs and any other retailer of household consumer products. Transportation and delivery services, including but not limited to businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, goods or services directly to residences and mailing and shipping services are other examples.

NRF also sought inclusion as “essential” facilities supporting interstate delivery of goods, distribution centers, warehouse facilities and trucking and highway rest stops; pharmacy and health care services; convenience stores; agricultural and farm retail stores; gas stations and auto supply stores, auto repair and related facilities; hardware and home improvement stores, and retailers that supply other essential businesses and people working from home with the support or supplies necessary to operate, such as electronics, telecommunication and mobile technology.

“Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, supporting one in four U.S. jobs–52 million working Americans,” NRF wrote. “The decisions being made in Washington this week will have lasting effects on our businesses, our employees and the communities we serve.”