Amid pandemic, some industrial owners suspend production to decontaminate

Gulf Coast Occupational Medicine Inc. CEO Sarah Taylor (Photography by Collin Richie)

As cases of COVID-19 permeate Louisiana’s industrial complex, some plants are shutting down temporarily to decontaminate their facilities, while others struggle to remain fully operational.

Gulf Coast Occupational Medicine Inc., one of several industrial testing facilities in the state, is testing as many as 20 employees a day at its Baton Rouge facility. They expect that number to jump significantly this week as cases rise among the general population.

“Our industrial clients are getting hit hard,” CEO Sarah Taylor says. “They are essential, so contractors and plant personnel are fighting a gigantic battle between having to maintain production and maintaining the health of their employees.”

While declining to identify specific sites, Taylor says some plants have temporarily suspended production in order to professionally inspect and decontaminate their facilities. She knows of at least five plant sites in Louisiana that have suffered a death or experienced several positive COVID-19 tests. “We’ve sent health care providers out to those sites to talk to the remaining workers, answer their questions, calm their fears, and tell them what to expect,” Taylor says.

Gulf Coast Occupational has also partnered with ACE Enterprises Inc. in Baton Rouge to provide more than 50,000 gallons of hand sanitizer to industrial contractors in five states, and a similar amount of hospital grade disinfectant, in bulk, to large petrochemical sites such as Dow, ExxonMobil and Shell. “We’ve supplied products to 16 owner facilities that have bought bulk product for their entire plant,” Taylor says, “as well as about 300 to 400 industrial, specialty or commercial contractors who are serviced by us.”

Industrial testing sites are also improving their turnaround times. Gulf Coast Occupational can provide results in 48 to 72 hours using the traditional COVID-19 nasal swab, which tests for the presence of the virus, and in as few as 10 minutes using an “instant test” that detects antibodies in a blood sample. All of Gulf Coast’s testing kits are supplied by Smartox in Irving, Texas, and Noble Medical in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

While the company has the capacity to handle general population testing, Taylor warns that there are protocols that must be followed. “I don’t mind testing the general public at all,” she says. “We’re a licensed medical provider; we can test you. However, we need to make sure that people meet the criteria. We are being very strict about adhering to the recommendations.

“In order to test here, you’re required to have a phone interview with a licensed healthcare provider, you have to meet the criteria and then an appointment is made for you,” Taylor notes. “You enter our parking lot, we test you in the car, you drive away and we call you with your results.”