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Eastman tells workers to avoid personal travel in order to protect region from COVID-19

From staff reports • Mar 21, 2020 at 5:56 PM

KINGSPORT — Eastman Chemical Co. on Saturday said it has instructed its employees to avoid personal travel until the end of April.

Company officials said they took this step “due to an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in and around our region along with increases in some popular spring travel destinations.”

Eastman also said it is asking for the community’s support to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, saying it is a shared responsibility.

“We are also encouraging members of the community to take the same precautions,” the company said in a statement released Saturday afternoon.

“Right now, we have a limited number of cases in the Tri-Cities region and none of these cases involve Eastman employees, but they are all related to travel outside our area.

“This is a shared responsibility among all of us in our community and we are asking everyone to pull together as a region, even if that means personal sacrifices, in order to avoid further spread of this virus here at home. We must do this for the sake of all employees, families and community members — particularly those at higher risk of complications — and to avoid disruptions for our local businesses which will be critical for our regional economy.”

Senior Vice President and Chief Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Engineering Officer Mark Cox said the company has been encouraging employees for some time to limit personal travel.

“This statement is a stronger one for both our Kingsport employees and those at our Longview, Texas, operations because those operations are vertically integrated in so many important ways.”

Cox said Saturday’s statement extends to all associates who not only live in Kingsport and Longview, but to all who work in those facilities.

“As the largest local employer, we have a responsibility not only to our employees, but to the entire region to convey our stance to protect the economic viability of the region,” Cox said.

Eastman used its emergency notification system to get its latest message out to associates. That system begins with a text. That text directs employees to an email containing a link to Eastman’s web page on COVID-19. It is a system that is tested monthly.

For Eastman employees who may be already traveling, Cox said they will be directed to contact their supervisors upon their return, and they will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

To date, Eastman operations locally have not been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the Eastman facilities around the globe, only the Wuhan, China, plant remains out of operation. Cox said the company has been able to compensate for that closure because of redundancies in the supply chain.

While many Eastman employees now work from home, there are jobs that cannot be done offsite.

“I am so proud of our team members who understand that they cannot work from home and have adjusted to newly adopted work schedules through this event,” Cox said. “They keep our manufacturing operational and have adapted to the new scheduling beautifully.”

Cox said those critical on-site positions include mechanics, chemical operators, electricians, lab analysts and crafts personnel, among others.

The Tennessee Department of Health says there are three cases of COVID-19 in The Tri-Cities, one in Sullivan County and two in Washington County. In the region, there is one case in Greene County and two reported in Lee County, Va. Across Tennessee there are now 371 reported cases, according to the Tennessee Department of Health.

Cases of COVID-19 are expected to increase as more people are tested for the virus. There are seven sites in Northeast Tennessee where people can be tested after first being screening through Ballad Health’s Nurse Connect program. You can reach Nurse Connect by calling (833) 822-5523.

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