Indiana firms restrict travel, postpone product intros, distribute hand sanitizer in reaction to coronavirus

Indiana-based companies that do business across the world are imposing international travel restrictions and encouraging employees to work from home in China, Italy and other areas where the disease COVID-19—caused by a novel coronavirus—has taken hold.

But firms are starting to take action as well to protect domestic employees, even though no sign of the virus has been detected—yet—in Indiana.

That can mean steps as simple as distributing more hand sanitizer and encouraging employees who have a cough or feel ill to stay home and as broad as discouraging non-essential domestic travel, canceling plans for meetings and postponing product rollouts.

“This is a very dynamic situation. The information on this changes daily,” said Matthew Vander Laan, vice president of communications for MonoSol, a Merrillville-based manufacturing company specializing in water-soluble packaging. The company—owned by Japan-based Kuraray—has two manufacturing facilities in Portage, one in LaPorte and a fourth in Lebanon that just started commercial manufacturing in February.

“We’re meeting as a senior team on this topic, daily, to adjust our counter-measures as we learn more,” Vander Laan said. “The first priority in all of this is the health and safety of our people. That’s the first lens we’re going to look through.”

MonoSol joins Eli Lilly and Co., Cummins, Indiana University and a growing list of other employers that have restricted international travel and are now considering what they might need to do within the U.S.

MonoSol—which also has facilities in the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and Hong Kong—banned travel to and from Asia three weeks ago and repatriated employees to their home countries at that time. Now it is postponing its introduction of new products, the result of a decision not to attend a key trade show in Italy.

And executives are now meeting by teleconference rather than in person.

“What we will probably be doing in some of our upcoming meetings is talking about whether or not we want to expand the geographic scope of some of these travel restrictions,” Vander Laan said. “Do we want to recommend to our people whether we want to limit visits to other trade shows, events where a large number of people are gathering.”

Cummins Inc. has bans and restrictions in place for travel in and out of China, South Korea and Italy through the end of March. But the engine maker also has a global travel warning in place that includes domestic travel, said company spokesman Jon Mills.

“Employees are supposed to consider travel carefully and review travel with their manager and consider postponing non-critical travel,” Mills said.

Eli Lilly also has restricted international travel to “business critical” purposes—or discussions and actions that can’t be handled through teleconferencing or other technology. All Lilly travel requests must be approved by a vice president or higher, as well as the country manager or manufacturing site head in that country.

“Essentially, there would be very few reasons for international travel that would fall in this category,” Lilly spokesman Scott MacGregor said.

But he said the company is not restricting travel within the U.S.

Domestically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has encouraged companies to actively encourage sick employees to stay home, recognize that employees may need to stay home to care for sick family members, post information about hand washing and sneezing etiquette, provide hand sanitizers and cleaning materials, and develop plans they can implement if an outbreak hits their offices or facilities.

OneAmerica has been monitoring the coronavirus outbreak for two months and has taken all of the steps recommended by the CDC, said spokeswoman Lou Ann Baker. That includes posting guidelines in restrooms, encouraging employees to work from home or take paid-time off if they aren’t feeling well, and doing extra cleaning in public areas.

Old National Bancorp has ensured hand sanitizer is available at all of its bank branches, created an employee resource site and is providing daily leadership updates, said Kathy Schoettlin, the company’s executive vice president for social responsibility and culture.

Old National is also “reviewing business continuity plans in the event an outbreak would impact markets in our footprint,” she said. “In addition, we are participating in industry and community conversations and precautionary preparedness activities.

“Protecting our associates and those who visit us, while best serving our clients and communities, are our top priorities,” she said.

Harrah’s Hoosier Park in Anderson said it is “reinforcing good personal hygiene, including washing hands frequently, and ensuring we are regularly cleaning surfaces and items which are touched often by guests and team members.”

Some organizations say they will use quarantines to try to prevent the virus spread.

Since January, Indiana University has been issuing advisories regarding coronavirus that currently restrict students from traveling to China, Italy, South Korea and Iran.

In addition, anyone traveling to a country with a CDC Level 2 or Level 3 travel alert (China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea) will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days off campus before returning to an Indiana University campus.

The global death toll from the virus has pushed past 3,000, and the number of people infected has topped 89,000, with fast-expanding outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran. In the United States, the number of cases has climbed to at least 91, and the country recorded its second death Sunday, both of them in Washington state.

Susan Orr, John Russell and Samm Quinn contributed to this story.

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