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Issues & Answers wants exemption from order

ESCANABA — The president of a market research company that has a presence in Escanaba is petitioning state governors for an exemption to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Issues & Answers Network, Inc. (I&A) has a total of four locations across Virginia and Michigan, including its call center in Escanaba.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order earlier this week. The executive order requires activities in Michigan not necessary to sustain or protect life to be temporarily suspended.

“The Virginia government did the same thing the Michigan government did,” I&A President Peter McGuinness said.

According to McGuinness, his company holds contracts to conduct surveys on behalf of the CDC for six U.S. states.

“We make the phone calls to the citizens of those states,” he said.

The completion of these surveys, which take about 25 minutes and focus on people’s health over the past year, is required for states to receive federal funding related to the health of their citizens. I&A submits data from the surveys to the CDC on a monthly basis.

“The work we’re doing is critical to the health of the country,” McGuinness said, noting his company does “thousands” of surveys in each state it has a contract for.

So far, the petitions have not received an official response from Michigan or Virginia’s state governments.

“I’ve not heard from them yet,” McGuinness said.

However, McGuinness was confident in his company’s odds of remaining open throughout the pandemic.

“We think we have an excellent chance of getting an exemption,” he said.

As of Wednesday morning, I&A’s call centers were still open in both Michigan and Virginia. I&A call center employees have been working remotely when possible, but some of them live in remote areas and do not have a computer and/or a strong enough Wi-Fi signal at home.

For these employees, McGuinness said I&A has been taking steps to promote social distancing at its call centers — including changes to the layout of employee workstations.

“Every third station, we have somebody,” he said.

The company has also been increasing its efforts to sanitize computers, phones and workstations.

McGuinness said I&A has continued to hire new employees.

“We can use as many people as we can get,” he said.

If the company’s call centers are required to close, the company would still operate on an exclusively work-from-home basis. Employees unable to work from home would be compensated normally in this scenario, as well.

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