Omicron Adds to Manufacturing Woes

Coronavirus surge hits factory workforces just as they struggle with supply-chain issues and rising costs.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, the Omicron variant’s spread among U.S. factory workers is slowing operations and stretching staff for manufacturers, leading some to consider unconventional, and sometimes expensive, solutions to keep operating.

Executives told the WSJ that mounting absences among workers are bringing masks back to some factory floors, while manufacturers shuttle available workers to jobs and plants where they are most needed. Companies are also redoubling recruiting efforts to fortify workforces already worn thin by high turnover in a tight job market.

The speed at which the highly contagious variant is spreading has stunned some executives, who said they had grown increasingly confident over recent months that their companies had navigated the worst of the pandemic. The apparent decreasing severity of the variant is providing some hope that the number of cases will lighten and the effect on companies will abate in coming weeks. Some sidelined workers are quarantining at home as a precaution.

The surge in Covid-19 absenteeism threatens to deepen problems of supply-chain and transportation bottlenecks and delayed deliveries. A stretch of depleted workforces and lower production volumes also could fuel further cost increases and drive consumer inflation. Already, domestically made material input costs for manufacturers have grown at the fastest rate since the 1970s, up nearly 30% in November from a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Late last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its voluntary recommendations that people isolate themselves for five days if they no longer show symptoms after being infected with Covid-19 and then wear a mask for the next five days, down from 10 days of isolation previously.

While the hope was that 2022 would get better, for some manufacturers it’s starting off in a mess.