In a March 20 Facebook post, CSR Marine boatyard in Ballard described donating two cases of stockpiled N-95 masks to Swedish Medical Center the previous day after it asked the company for any available.
“As the saying goes, if you have enough to spare, you have enough to share,’’ the post said.
But five days later, a company-wide email warned employees to be “conservative’’ using personal protective equipment – or PPE, including N-95 masks, safety gloves and Tyvek suits — because suppliers were limiting orders.
“The less PPE we waste, the less we need to order. The less we need to order, the more for our Medical Professionals!’’ the email said.
Boatyard workers often use PPE during paint and repair jobs, though CSR Marine employees say the company these days services mainly private yachts and power boats, rather than the emergencies or specialized government agency vessels it was kept open to handle. Three times since Friday, The Seattle Times witnessed workers tending to private luxury boats, including Wednesday afternoon as they serviced a 47-foot Beneteau 437 yacht.
CSR Marine is among a growing list of gray-area businesses deemed essential that are operating under Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-at-home order. Businesses including real estate photographers, moving companies and commercial geoduck operations recently received special exemptions. Meanwhile, owners of cleaning services, self-storage operators and even a company installing a backyard pool still have employees showing up to work.
CSR Marine’s vice president, Jeremiah Jewell, said Wednesday the PPE warning email was sent by the company’s purchasing manager, whom he declined to identify but added had not intended “to imply direct competition with medical providers.”
Jewell said the company gave Swedish all N-95 masks it had, no longer uses them and hasn’t ordered more. While employees still have “reusable industrial respirators” and “some latex gloves and Tyvek coveralls,” he said those aren’t what hospitals want.
Jewell said he’s drastically cut staff at the company’s Ballard and Des Moines locations. The company’s website said CSR Marine maintains minimal operations to “respond to marine vessel emergencies, service repairs, and environmental response for its customers, including the U.S. Coast Guard, Seattle Police Department, Seattle Fire Department, and King County.”
But at the Ballard yard Friday, workers were seen preparing a 53-foot J/160 luxury sailboat for transport, while on Tuesday they were lowering the mast on a Hallberg Rassy cruising yacht. Those workers had no safety gear, but two of those servicing the Beneteau yacht on Wednesday wore Tyvek coveralls.
Jewell said his company has “some government and commercial/industrial projects in process at both yards now” and needs minimal staff for emergencies and “necessary haulouts” of customer boats from the water. He said he’d implemented “strict hygiene and social distancing policies companywide” on March 17.
CSR Marine employees, asking not to be identified, said workers were still complaining last week about cramped office conditions and free-roaming in the Ballard boatyard by vendors, customers and contractors. Last Tuesday, Jewell emailed employees to say that most should work from home because offices were closing and would be staffed only for minimal business operations.
Yard workers were told to observe the “six-foot rule” and that customers and vendors were barred. But gate codes remained unchanged, and by the next day emails show multiple employees complained that customers and vendors still roamed the yard. One emailed Jewell that a customer of a contractor on-site had recently died after contracting COVID-19.
“They use our bathroom, freely come and go around the shop and barn AND expose everyone here to a much larger group of outside people,” the employee wrote.
Jewell replied that afternoon he’d changed the code and pledged to repeat to yard workers the next day that no customers or vendors were permitted and only select contractors could gain access.
But last Friday, The Times photographed what employees identified as a non-CSR worker lingering for more than 20 minutes around the J/160 luxury sailboat being prepared for transport. The boat, identifiable by its markings, is listed on an online sailing website as having recently sold for $449,000.
In Mercer Island, house tenant Renee Bowman was surprised when three housekeepers from The Maids of Bellevue service showed up last week after the governor’s order went into effect.
“Every time that they come, they’re going to be exposing me,” Bowman said, adding her landlord scheduled the cleaning over her objections.
Bowman doesn’t know how many homes the housekeepers visited before hers and shared photos showing they weren’t all wearing protective gear.
“I’d feel OK if they were wearing masks, gloves and disposable gowns,” Bowman said. “But I’m not looking forward to them coming back.”
The governor has not issued specific guidance on housekeeping, Department of Commerce spokeswoman Penny Thomas confirmed. That’s left companies to determine whether to keep operating.
Kara Stone, a self-employed housekeeper, said she doesn’t believe she’s an essential business under the terms of the governor’s order. She texted all her clients last week asking if they wanted her to continue; about half canceled.
“People can live without a housekeeper,” she said.
But she knows many clients, including an elderly couple with mobility issues, rely on her. She tries to keep clients safe, using more bleach than usual and even telling one elderly client she thought it best to hold off servicing her home so as not to risk subjecting her to the coronavirus.
The Maids of Bellevue owner Dianne Bjorn, who sent the workers to Bowman’s home, noted a provision in Inslee’s order exempting workers “necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences.”
“We are essential,” Bjorn said.
She added her company is seeing increased demand for a deep-cleaning service claiming to purge homes of the virus that causes COVID-19. Workers, she said, are expected to wear provided hand-sewn cotton masks, shoe covers and gloves to protect themselves and clients.
Bjorn expressed concern when told housekeepers, who travel and work together in teams of three, weren’t wearing equipment.
Reene Williams, who works at a Public Storage location in Seattle, said she’s upset her employer is still keeping offices fully staffed with four or five workers during the day — especially since the company recently launched an e-rental service reducing the need for employees to be at the office.
She’s reviewed entry logs documenting hundreds of customer visits to gain access to storage units — all using the same elevators.
A Public Storage spokesman said the company believes it’s essential because many clients are experiencing homelessness and use the facility to store possessions. One exemption to Inslee’s order is for organizations providing services for homeless individuals.
And while the company doesn’t track what’s being stored, it believes many essential businesses — pharmaceutical distributors, carpenters, plumbers and food banks, for instance — keep supplies in their units.
Some home renovation projects have gone on even after the state’s construction ban — at least temporarily.
In Issaquah this week, a small crew showed up to continue installing an $80,000 backyard pool at the home of state Sen. Mark Mullet.
The work took place under an exemption in Inslee’s construction shutdown order, which allows projects to continue if leaving them unfinished would result in a safety risk or “spoliation” of a site, according to Issaquah officials and public records.
Bob Hill, the owner of Everett-based All Star Pool and Spa, emailed a city overseer last week to ask permission to get the pool foundation into safe shape before halting work under the governor’s order.
“As we all know the COVID-19 virus is shutting down the economy,” Hill wrote. “I am asking you to let us continue work at Mr. Mullets house as the excavated pool walls are caving in making the backyard a hazard for the family.” James Gray, an Issaquah development-services official, authorized that plan as “reasonable.”
Mullet, a Democrat serving his second term, said he let the contractor and the city work out what was proper. “I’ve had zero role in this whole process,” he said, adding that he expects the pool work to pause as of Friday.
Mullet, whose 8,670-square-foot home is assessed at more than $3 million, said he has six kids and when he authorized the pool project last year he had no idea construction would take place during a global pandemic. He owns three Ben & Jerry’s franchises that are temporarily closed and a Zeek’s Pizza that remains open for takeout. “The timing could not be any worse,” he said.