ND Paper, a subsidiary of Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings) Ltd., purchased the Old Town mill in 2018. Credit: Nina Mahaleris | Penobscot Times

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OLD TOWN, Maine — Deemed an essential business, ND Paper is keeping its operations running — but how workers get the job done looks very different than it did before the coronavirus pandemic struck Maine.

“We were deemed an essential manufacturer from the get-go,” said Amy Lee, director of communications for ND Paper, a subsidiary of the Chinese company Nine Dragons Paper (Holdings) Ltd., which makes pulp, paper and paper-based packaging materials.

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Like other essential businesses around the state, the company’s two mills in Maine — along with their locations in West Virginia and Wisconsin — have implemented new safety measures to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“[We’re] under pretty strict guidance,” Lee said, noting company-wide travel restrictions and new requirements for employees to wear masks while on the clock. “It’s a very, very different environment.”

There have been no cases of COVID-19 among the company’s roughly 1,400 U.S. employees, but confined spaces like the lunch rooms have marked six-foot spacings and staff lunch breaks are staggered, Lee said.

The company also has left vacant positions unfilled, and shifted individual duties at its other mills, as people who potentially were in contact with the virus self-quarantine for two weeks before heading back to work.

“We saw much more of that self-quarantining at the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s now tapered off,” she said.

The company’s owners have had challenges navigating business during the pandemic. ND Paper’s CEO is Ken Liu, but Yan Cheung is the chair of Nine Dragons, its Hong Kong-based parent company.

Under normal circumstances, the company’s leadership regularly makes trips to visit their U.S. mills, but halted those plans when the virus outbreak in China began.

It’s been about four months since company leadership last visited the Old Town mill.

So far, none of Nine Dragons’ mills have had a single positive case of COVID-19, according to Lee.

“We take this very seriously,” Lee said.