COVID-19: How Small Businesses Can Safely Reopen

Topics: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Small business owners may be anxious to welcome customers back, but there’s no denying that life as we know it has drastically changed. The coronavirus pandemic effectively shut down most of the country, with businesses closing their doors and employees furloughed or working from home. As quickly as the shutdown occurred, reopening businesses will have to be at a more gradual pace. It will take some time for the nation to adjust to a new normal way of life.

The Phases of Reopening the United States

President Trump, announcing a three-phase plan to reopen the country, told reporters that opening “one careful step at a time” instead of all at once is necessary to keep everyone safe – and to help prevent another surge in COVID-19 cases. The new federal guidelines for reopening leave much of the responsibilities to the individual states, and state governors will have discretion in regards to how they choose to begin reopening. And, there are specific guidelines that must be met before each state can start to reopen.

For instance, states should have systems in place for testing individuals with symptoms of COVID-19, and their healthcare systems should be running efficiently. States also should have proper PPE available, have the ability to handle a surge in cases, and plans should bet set in place to ensure the health and safety of workers and citizens.

When the states have satisfied the above criteria, an overview of the proposed phases for reopening the economy are as follows:

Phase One

Telework is still encouraged, or if possible, employees should return to work in phases. Common areas should be closed, and non-essential travel minimized. Special accommodations should be considered for those in the vulnerable population, such as the elderly or the immune-compromised.

As far as specific types of employers, in phase one, schools and daycares will remain closed, and visitors to senior living facilities and hospitals will still be prohibited. If strict distancing protocols are followed, gyms and some large venues such as movie theaters and churches may begin operation, as long as they maintain distancing and sanitation efforts. Elective surgeries can resume as needed on an outpatient basis. Bars are to remain closed.

Phase Two

In phase two, vulnerable individuals should still shelter in place and should be kept isolated from those who could potentially come into contact with the virus and put them at risk. Gatherings of more than 50 people should be avoided unless proper distancing measures can be abided. Public areas like parks and shopping establishments can be visited, but individuals should still maximize physical distance (six feet or more) from others. Non-essential travel may resume.

Throughout phase two, employers are encouraged to allow employees to continue to telework if possible. Common areas like company cafeterias or other areas where employees congregate should remain closed, and if an employee is of the vulnerable population, special accommodations should continue to be provided.

Many of the same guidelines for specific businesses that apply in phase one still apply in phase two. However, in phase two, schools and daycares may reopen, and bars are allowed to open as long as they operate with less standing room occupancy.

Phase Three

As the country moves into phase three, life begins to return to a level of normalcy. The vulnerable population can start to interact with others while still practicing social distancing and minimizing their exposure to large group settings. The restrictions on worksites can be lifted. As long as diligent hygiene is practiced, visits to senior care facilities and hospitals may resume, and large venues can open with limited distancing protocols set in place. Bars may also operate with increased standing room occupancy once again.

Protecting Workers as Businesses Reopen

About 95% of the United States has been under some form of lockdown since mid-March, with governors issuing stay at home or shelter in place orders to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. While essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies have remained opened, bars, restaurants, hair salons and others undoubtedly have been anxiously awaiting the day they can start getting back to business as usual.

While it will take some time for that day to come, there are safety processes all organizations can do to start preparing for it. It’s critical that businesses of all sizes, in all industries, take measures to ensure their employees can stay safe and healthy when they report for work. These steps include:

Stagger the return of employees

Start slowly allowing employees to return to the workplace by alternating shifts and workdays that reduce the number of employees on-site at any given time. Or, continue to allow employees to work from home to limit in-person interaction in the office.

Monitor employees’ health

Businesses should create a clearly-defined plan utilizing HR strategies developed with legal consulation to monitor the health of their employees. Regular screenings of employees’ temperatures and overall health can help keep the workforce safe. Should any workers become ill, have a plan in place to immediately isolate them and provide the medical care they may require. It may also become common practice to provide facemasks or other protective gear to stop the potential spread of the virus.

Increase cleaning and disinfecting efforts

All surfaces need to be cleaned and disinfected throughout the workplace regularly. Make sure to wipe down all commonly touched items, such as doorknobs, light switches, drawer handles, phones, keyboards, etc. Businesses should also increase deep cleaning efforts to ensure floors and common areas are thoroughly sanitized throughout the year.

Limit gatherings

Both phases one and two of reopening the economy require that common areas, like lunchrooms and cafeterias, are kept closed. Employees should also continue to conduct meetings virtually, rather than gather in conference rooms in tight quarters.

Keep lines of communication open

One of the most critical steps to take during these uncertain times is to communicate clearly and continuously with employees. Things have been changing on a daily basis throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and many individuals feel anxious, stressed and overwhelmed right now. Businesses can designate a point person employees can contact with questions about changes in protocols, job requirements, working remotely and other issues they may have as things slowly get back to a new normal.

Supporting Our Small Business Insured as They Get Ready to Reopen

AmTrust offers a library of resources regarding the coronavirus to help our appointed agents and small business insured stay informed, safe and healthy throughout these difficult times. For more information about our small business insurance solutions, please contact us today.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal, tax or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is accurate, appropriate or suitable for any specific business, tax or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business, tax and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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