CEO Corner: Our physical and economic health in the face of COVID-19

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

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COVID-19 has spread to Skagit County, with the first confirmed case announced Tuesday by the state Department of Health. In a proactive step to facilitate coordination with state and local partners, the Skagit County commissioners declared a public health emergency on COVID-19.

The preventive steps are intended to lessen the spread of the outbreak. Two of the strong recommendations to businesses and community organizations are to maximize telecommuting, particularly where an employee or family member feels unwell, and to consider postponing events and gatherings of ten or more people.

There are a limited number of things we can do in the face of this public health threat: wash our hands, stay home if we don’t feel well, and don’t cough or sneeze on anyone. We can also stay tuned to our public health officials and experts to learn more about COVID-19, its spread, and impact.

Governor Jay Inslee and our congressional representatives have begun to point out the need to support small businesses during this crisis. With more people particularly in the greater Seattle region staying home, working from home, and avoiding group activities and events, as well as the interruption of goods produced in and shipped from China, businesses of every size and many sectors will notice the effects. We just don’t know yet how much and for how long.

So in the meantime, what can we do?

Stay Informed, Share Information

As your Economic Development Alliance, we will keep you informed of both public health and business-related developments. The latest information from the Washington State Department of Health is here and Skagit County Public Health current information is here.

For Employers and Businesses

For information on who is at greater risk, how to inform employees and visitors to your workplace, and what to do to keep your workplace as sanitized and prepared as possible, read the latest from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here.

Businesses are advised to formulate an Infectious Disease Response Plan, which in addition to other factors already mentioned, would cover employee absences due to school closings, necessitating cross-training of employees. These plans need to be flexible, well-communicated, and based on best practices from other businesses and organizations.

As with storm preparedness, essential services and functions should be identified. Figure out options for virtual meetings and working from home. You may have heard about Governor Inslee’s consideration of recommended or mandated “social distancing” to control the spread of COVID-19. Think these through ahead of time.

Those contemplating international travel for business or pleasure should monitor the CDC’s travel page.

Yesterday, Governor Inslee stated: “[W]e need to look forward and get ahead of the curve in Washington state. If we're going to stop this epidemic or seriously slow it down, we need to focus on what's coming - not what's here today."

Inslee also announced an expansion of state policies Tuesday to support workers and businesses financially impacted by COVID-19.

He said the rules will help relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation and quarantine by ensuring unemployment benefits are available to individuals whose employment has been impacted directly by COVID-19:

  • Workers will be able to receive unemployment benefits and employers will get relief of benefit charges if an employer needs to curtail or shut down operations temporarily because a worker becomes sick and other workers need to be isolated or quarantined as a result of COVID-19.
  • A worker that follows guidance issued by a medical or public health official to isolate or quarantine themselves as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and is not receiving paid sick leave from their employer, may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
  • If a worker falls seriously ill and is forced to quit, they may qualify for Paid Family Medical Leave while ill under the existing program. Once recovered and available for work, they may apply for unemployment benefits.
  • It removes the full-time requirement and expands standby ability to part time/less than full-time workers who are isolated.

What Can I do?

Companies in tourism, travel, hospitality, retail, professional services, manufacturing, and many other sectors are already feeling the negative impacts of COVID-19, whether from fewer customers, breaks in the supply chain, or workplace issues.

Our federal and state legislators need to know how businesses and employees are experiencing economic harm from this crisis. Please go to the EDASC website and fill out this form to describe briefly and specifically the economic impact of this public health crisis on your income. This is not a loan application.

Whether it’s interruption of supply chain, or markedly fewer customers, or extraordinary costs of cleaning, or closings, or anything else you can identify and quantify, we want to be able to report it to our legislators so they can understand the potential remedies.

As soon as possible, please completethis form and send it to office@skagit.org. Let us know if you have any questions.

We will know more about this illness – and our effectiveness in preventing its spread -- every day over the coming weeks. Many predict the threat will subside with warmer weather, but most certainly we can all do our part to prevent it from being even worse than it already will be.

Our proactive efforts to prevent spread and anticipate workplace and business needs will be the main way we can play a positive role in this public health crisis.

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