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May 11, 2020

COVID-19: Status of Reopening Efforts, Issues to Consider

The Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) recently polled its members to assess planning and readiness for return to work. The survey found:

  • Manufacturers are confident in their ability to execute effectively on critical return to work policies under COVID-19, including: screening, use of facial coverings and personal protective equipment (PPE), social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting, workforce safety communications, telework, and travel restrictions.
  • Manufacturers are concerned about slumping demand and workforce safety.
  • For nine in 10 companies, capacity utilization has been lower during the pandemic, with more than half of companies reporting a moderate to extreme change in number of factory employees working regular hours.
  • Nearly nine in 10 now require or will require six feet of distance between employees, and more than two-thirds are banning outside visitors except for deliveries.
  • Many employers are considering reinstating employees in stages, rotating teams, staggering start times, and customizing hours and shifts.

The law firm Kelley-Drye, recommends that employers “should be developing a careful, considered plan to bring their workforces back.” Specifically, the firm recommends companies:

  • Consider a phased approach. Bring back employees in small groups or “waves” to minimize the risk of infection. This could include alternating when employees can come in, redesigning open floor plans temporarily to allow employees to spread out, or installing partitions between workspaces.
  • Consider temperature checks. The U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has authorized temperature checks at work. Three points to consider, however: do not attempt to obtain more information than is necessary (employers do not need a full medical history); continue to keep all information private (conduct screenings outside of view of others); and remember that a temperature check reveals someone’s temperature, not the presence of a virus. Send employees with temperatures home and tell them to seek a medical diagnosis.
  • Consider waiting. Employers should take caution in opening their offices at a time when the outbreak is still at an all-time high and remember that short-term economic gains can easily be lost if, longer-term, renewed COVID-19 transmissions puts half of a workforce in quarantine.

Other resources that might be of interest to companies contemplating these questions include:

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance on personal protective equipment.
  • MSCI’s webinar with Galasso, Corporate Director, Health, Safety and Environment for Samuel, Son & Co., which discusses appropriate methods to maintain a safe work environment and how to prepare for ongoing COVID-19 interruptions and the re-opening of locations. Click here for more information from this session.
  • This National Association of Manufacturers’ webinar, which outlines best practices for preparing operations for a return to work, as well as what companies can do to ensure employees are confident that facilities are safe and ready for business.
  • NAM’s proposals for protecting employers from liability for COVID-19-related lawsuits.

State-Specific Reopening Efforts

While the U.S. government has provided ample guidance about actions governors should take in the face of COVID-19, it is the chief executives in each state who will decide when to open their respective state’s economy. So far, at least 11 U.S. states and territories have lifted stay at home orders, though even these states still require or recommend some form of social distancing standard.

To help businesses navigate the various state-based public health guidance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC) has launched a state-by-state interactive map that contains critical information for U.S. businesses in the states where governors have begun to reopen local economies. The National Association of Manufacturers also is tracking state orders.

States often are taking vastly different approaches to public health and safety guidance, including when it comes to:

  • Health Screening. In many states, employers are required or requested to conduct a health screening of employees. In some states, this is to be done at the beginning of each shift, in others at the beginning and the end. In some states, this involves temperature checks, in others health questionnaires.
  • Social Distancing. While most states call for six feet of separation, some layer on other requirements including occupancy limits and limits on the size of gatherings.
  • Protective Gear. In some states, masks are suggested, in others they are required. States also differ when it comes to how individuals must wear this gear.

To attempt to guide states’ decisions, on April 22, the National Governors Association (NGA) released its Roadmap to Recovery: A Public Health Guide for Governors. This document outlines ten key steps and related operational considerations for governors to guide critical decisions in support of the public’s health and well-being in the weeks and months ahead. Like federal guidance, the NGA’s document is merely a suggestion for governors to take into account.

States also continue to help businesses that are ailing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Grant Thornton has an overview of COVID-19-related tax changes enacted in the U.S. states. Click here to access that report, and here. Thomas also is tracking all state tax relief and loan programs available to small businesses. Click here to review that information.