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A Kansas City business owner prepares for COVID to keep disrupting work: 'It's no joke'

Fahteema Parris talks during a press conference last year at Kansas City International Airport where her company is one of many minority- and women-owned businesses working on the project.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Fahteema Parris talks during a press conference last year at Kansas City International Airport where her company is one of many minority- and women-owned businesses working on the project.

Fahteema Parrish, the owner of Parrish & Sons Construction, says that COVID-19 has caused constant disruptions in her business, even as her employees try to keep up with shifting safety protocols.

As the U.S. ends its second calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic, KCUR wanted to hear from members of the greater Kansas City community about their experiences and reflections.

Fahteema Parrish is the owner of Parrish & Sons Construction, based in Kansas City, and is one of the industry's rare Black women leaders. Keeping up with business during the pandemic has meant constantly adjusting safety protocols and coping with what Parrish calls "the fear of the unknown."

Pre-pandemic, Parrish says, her business saw "pretty low to no downtime due to sickness." Now, she says, when an employee comes down with COVID-19 it'll cause a ripple effect of quarantines through her entire crew, causing delays in projects.

"It's been quite frequent," Parrish tells KCUR's Nomin Ujiyediin. "Every couple months, at least a couple times in a quarter. So we we've had a good string of our guys that have been impacted, including myself. So it's no joke."

Interview highlights

On how everyday work life has changed during the pandemic

So how it's changed is that our safe action plan would consist of doing temperature checks. I've purchased the infrared thermometers and we've had to go through an extra hygienic step of cleaning our machine. So once the operator removes himself from that machine, "Hey, here's a can of Lysol, here is a can of Clorox wipes." So when you're done with that piece of equipment for the day, we're spraying it down, we're wiping it down.

But first and foremost, before our employees start work for the day, "Hey, have you been running a fever? Have you experienced any of the following symptoms?" And so we go through that list with them, and we hope that they're answering it, you know, honestly, because, should it not be answered honestly, you're putting the entire crew at risk.

On what happens when an employee gets COVID-19

It caused a slowdown for us and our deliverables across multiple projects. Thank goodness that we've had understanding clients who allowed us to have that two weeks or that 14 day or that 10 day period where we didn't have the full team in place because certain individuals were exposed and had to stay home and quarantine.

So we really had to rely on the relationships with our trade partners to say, "Hey, our guys are down. We had one person who contracted it and then it spread to another. And so now we have a whole crew that's down." And so that communication was sent to our clients. They were understanding, we were able to revise schedules and we were able to get back on step once everyone was back healthy.

On what she's learned from the past year

You have to be extremely transparent and you have to over-communicate. As soon as you're impacted by something, whether you think it's big or small, you have to reach out and communicate that to your trade partner or your client, just to make sure that we are all on the same page and we're aware of, you know, the cost increase or the impact of the labor force. How do we come together and work on an action plan, a corrective action plan, or a safe action plan that'll allow us to, you know, press forward in the midst of so much of the unknown?

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