David Mahoney said that given the concerns around the coronavirus, he understood the reasons why his painters were turned away when they came to do a recent estimate at a home in Maryland. “It’s perfectly understandable,” the founder of David Mahoney Painting Company said of the homeowner’s decision not to let the team in. “I do wish they’d told me before we drove up there.”
As an outbreak of the coronavirus, or COVID-19 continues, local contractors are taking steps to protect their customers and employees while continuing with business as usual – even in these unusual times.
Respirators a Regular Part of Uniform
David Mahoney has been painting houses since he was 15 years old. He started his own company nearly twenty-five years ago, specializing in repainting historic buildings.
He said he thinks the company can pull through this challenge, just as they pulled through the 2008 recession. The key is to keep both customers and employees safe while getting the work done. “People aren’t that excited about doing interiors right now, which is understandable,” Mahoney said. He said he will keep both his customers and employees out of harm’s way, emphasizing good hygiene.
Mahoney said that painters have always been concerned with respiratory safety. He and his team must protect their lungs from the dust created when sanding and scraping to prepare surfaces for painting. Specializing in historic houses and buildings means they deal with toxic ingredients in paint like lead and mercury, he added.
Those dangers make the coveted N95 masks a critical part of their daily uniform, which protect their lungs from dust and chemicals. When removing lead, the team wears the higher-rated N100 masks necessary for lead removal, as well as full-body and eye protection.
“When you’re taking precautions, especially as a certified lead paint contractor, you understand the importance of containing,” he said. The team cordons off and stages the job to protect the customer whether or not lead is present, and painters wear fully Tyvek suits. “You might scare people walking through the neighborhood like that,” he said, “but those are the precautions you’ve got to take.”
The equipment has become increasingly hard to get, with many suppliers telling him they won’t have more until late April, at best. He said that many people have been buying up the N95 masks. Mahoney fortunately purchased a number of N95 and N100 masks early on, allowing his work to continue. “I’m not sure what we will do if we run out, as we wear them on a daily basis,” said Mahoney.
Some clients have been reluctant to have tradespeople in their homes. Fortunately, Mahoney said that the bulk of his work during the spring is repainting the exterior of homes, which as of now has not been affected. Mahoney remains optimistic that people will continue to request estimates and move forward with painting projects.
If the situation continues to worsen, the company could eventually be forced to lay off employees and ultimately have to seek unemployment insurance, he said, but public health is the critical thing. “The important thing is to keep everyone healthy and safe as we ride this out.”
‘Public Health is the Most Important Thing’
Tiffany Wilcox fully agrees. She is a partner at Wilcox Electric, managing the office, while her husband Steve Wilcox manages the field. She said that it’s a hard time to be a contractor, as many people understandably are reluctant to have others in their homes at this time, even at a social distance and even if they have a real need for electric repair. “If people are letting us into their homes, then we are working, we want to work,” she said. “But it is a personal decision, and we respect it very much.”
She has also made her sick policy utterly clear: stay home. All employees are encouraged to stay home if they feel ill, with pay, whether the symptoms resemble COVID-19 or a head cold. “I don’t want my employees to have to make that difficult decision,” she said. “They can stay home and pay their bills, and that way I am hopefully offering a healthier workforce to my customers.”
It is part of a new COVID-19 policy Wilcox instituted to ensure that the health of both employees and clients is protected. All electricians will no longer shake hands upon arrival at a job, and will maintain 6 feet distance. They will ask for permission to wash their hands upon arrival and departure. Tools, vehicles and offices are also regularly cleaned and disinfected, she added.
Clients who feel ill are encouraged to reschedule their appointments, multiple times if necessary, Wilcox said -–the company will make it work. But if there is an electrical emergency, such as a power outage, clients should call whether they have symptoms or a positive test. It will likely be Steve Wilcox himself who takes that call, his spouse said. The team has a supply of protective equipment that can be worn to keep Steve and everyone else safe if he is called on in such an emergency.
“We feel a responsibility –and I know many people do. Let’s just get through this, together, as unscathed as we can be. You’ve got the public health crisis, and you’ve got the economic crisis that’s unfolding as a result. The public health crisis is, I think paramount.”
As of March 23, Wilcox said that the electric company had a sustainable level of calls scheduled until the Wednesday, and while they’re still booking work, it’s not enough. However, she said if more business doesn’t come in, the 31-year-old business will have to make some hard decisions with the seven electricians they have on staff by the end of the week.
Steve Wilcox said that some clients are still calling for estimates, perhaps hoping to keep some normalcy or forward-motion in their lives. A realtor called to get an estimate for work on a vacant home, for instance. “I think we’ll be doing a few days work there,” Wilcox said, “and that’s a godsend.” Tiffany Wilcox said her hope is that people will take this time to do electric work in spaces that are similarly now sitting vacant, such as offices where staff are working from home, vacation houses, or rental units.
She recognizes that the public health crisis is bigger that Wilcox Electric. Of course, she wants the company to make it through, but she says public health and safety come above all else. “If there are ways for us to keep working safely, then let’s do it,” she said, “This is disruptive. It just is.”
“But we’ll see you on the other side.”
To learn more about Wilcox Electric or to get an estimate, visit www.wilcox-electric.com or call 202-546-1010. For more information on David Mahoney Painting, call 1-866-967-6711 or visit mahoneypainting.com