Coronavirus (or more specifically, COVID-19) has arrived in the US and it’s important for small businesses to act quickly to help slow the spread of the disease and to work to reduce the impact on daily operations. Keeping your business open and operating as usual must be balanced against important concerns for public safety. You don’t want to be THAT business in your local community that didn’t sufficiently protect your employees and / or customers.
COVID-19 is going to have an impact on all businesses and at the national level, lawmakers have acted with H.R.6074 - Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 which was signed into law on March 6, 2020. The $8.3 billion bill provides emergency funding for federal agencies to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to monies provided to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the bill provides supplemental appropriations for the Small Business Administration (SBA) to include loans for affected small businesses. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6074
Lawmakers have pressed SBA to Prepare Small Businesses for Coronavirus. According to a press release, on February 27, 2020, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, sent a letter to Jovita Carranza, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), requesting information on the agency’s plan to ensure small businesses are prepared to respond to potential disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“As the situation continues to evolve, it is becoming clear that the threat of widespread transmission of COVID-19 could have severe economic impacts on small businesses and the U.S. economy as a whole,” the senators wrote. “For this reason, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure that small businesses and their employees are equipped to prepare for, and respond to, the anticipated spread of COVID-19 in order to reduce both short-term and long-term disruptions.”
The full text of the Rubio/Cardin letter is here: https://www.sbc.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2020/2/rubio-cardin-urge-sba-to-prepare-small-businesses-for-coronavirus )
In President Trump’s nationally televised speech to address the Nation yesterday, March 11th, he stated,
“… to provide extra support for American workers, families, and businesses, tonight I am announcing the following additional actions: I am instructing the Small Business Administration to exercise available authority to provide capital and liquidity to firms affected by the coronavirus.
Effective immediately, the S.B.A. will begin providing economic loans in affected states and territories. These low-interest loans will help small businesses overcome temporary economic disruptions caused by the virus. To this end, I am asking Congress to increase funding for this program by an additional $50 billion.”
His full speech can be found here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?470284-1/president-trump-travel-europe-us-suspended-30-days-uk
When the President made his announcement, there was no information on the SBA website about Coronavirus or COVID-19 or the congressionally approved loan program designed to help small businesses.
Today (March 12, 2020), the SBA website is now showing some information on the program.
According to SBA:
o SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.
o These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75%.
Details on the SBA Disaster Assistance in Response to the Coronavirus is located here: https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19
And SBA Administrator, Jovita Carranza, issued a statement in response to the President’s address to the nation: https://www.sba.gov/about-sba/sba-newsroom/press-releases-media-advisories/sba-provide-small-businesses-impacted-coronavirus-covid-19-2-million-disaster-assistance-loans
As the shape of Federal support continue to develop, reliable information on how small businesses can best respond to the coronavirus or make use of Federal resources is still in short supply.
What do we know?
There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19.
To date, the mortality rate of COVID-19 appears to be 3.4% while the mortality rate for seasonal influenza is far less than 1% making COVID-19 at least 10x more lethal. (see: https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---3-march-2020 )
According to the CDC, the number of cases is increasingly. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-in-us.html
Globally, Coronavirus COVID-19 is being tracked by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at John Hopkins University in this interactive map: https://gisanddata.maps.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6 As this writing, the tracker shows 1,323 known cases in the US.
How quickly could the virus further spread in the US? It’s hard to know because the limited testing to date in the US suggests that the true number could be much greater than the confirmed cases. Just three weeks ago in Italy, there were only 3 confirmed cases. Italy now has the highest number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths outside China: more than 12,000 and 800, respectively (as of March 11). And German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently warned that up to 58 million people - 70% of the country's population - could contract COVID-19.
What should a small business do? As a small business, what additional measures can you take to combat COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have released “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to COVID-19”. In this guidance, they recommend the following steps for employers:
#1. Actively encourage sick employees to stay home.
#2. Emphasize staying home when sick, respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene by all employees.
#3. Perform routine environmental cleaning.
#4. Advise employees before traveling to take certain steps.
Every small business should make itself familiar with this guidance along with supporting details which you can find here:
CDC has also provided guidance for sick individuals. If you are already sick with COVID-19 or if you suspect you are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, CDC recommends you follow a range of steps to help prevent the disease from spreading to people in your home and community. Full details are here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/steps-when-sick.html
In addition to the four CDC-recommended the steps above. We have come up with additional recommendations for a total for ten things your small business can do to help combat and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
#5. If you have a small business with lots of foot traffic, then it’s important to clean all “high-touch” surfaces every day and possibly at periodic intervals throughout the day.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published EPA’s Registered Antimicrobial Products for Use Against Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the Cause of COVID-19. This is a useful guide to what can actually kill germs. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-03/documents/sars-cov-2-list_03-03-2020.pdf
As you might expect, products with household names like Lysol, Clorox, and Peak are effective disinfectant products and PURELL is effective as a hand sanitizer.
The American Chemistry Council's (ACC) Center for Biocide Chemistries (CBC) has compiled their list of products (in a different format) that have been pre-approved by EPA and can be used against the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. According to ACC, the product list is not exhaustive but can be used by business owners, health professionals, and the public to identify products suitable for use with COVID-19.
You can make good cleaning practices transparent to your customers by posting the measures you take with signs and posters. Not only will this raise their confidence in your concern for their well-being, it also educates others on appropriate steps to take.
#6. Create some ground rules in the workplace for how employees should act.
Your employees will be looking for your guidance in these times of uncertainty so provide ground rules on how they should act.
A: Emphasize good hand hygiene by all employees and appropriate respiratory etiquette to contain coughs and sneezes (see #2 above).
B: Social distancing. Establish practices or policies to increase the physical distance among employees and between employees and members of the public. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), maintain at least 3 feet of distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing. Other WHO guidelines, posters, and advice for the public on COVID-19 can be found here: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public
C. Change the business etiquette of shaking hands for the near future. Fist bumps, head nods, and even practices from other countries (e.g. the Thai “Wai” see: https://www.khaosodenglish.com/news/2020/03/06/thai-wai-suggested-as-alternative-to-handshake-to-combat-virus ) are great alternatives to the traditional, but potentially fatal, practice of shaking hands.
#7. Install alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations.
Frequent hand washing with soap and warm water remains the top recommended practice by health practitioners but alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a close second in effectiveness and installing sanitizer stations around your business is a good way to keep employees and customers safe.
#8. Deploy technology when possible.
A: This year, 2020, may be the year businesses truly go virtual. Video conferencing software and phone bridges for virtual meetings are a good alternative to in-person group meetings.
B: Google G-Suite special. Google announced extended Hangouts Meet premium features to all G Suite customers through July 1, 2020. According to their blog release:
“As more employees, educators, and students work remotely in response to the spread of COVID-19, we want to do our part to help them stay connected and productive with G Suite. All G Suite customers can use Hangouts Meet today for easy-to-join video calls, but we’ll soon enable free access to more advanced features, including:
- Larger meetings for up to 250 participants per call
- Live streaming for up to 100K viewers within domain
- Record meetings to Google Drive
These features are typically only available in the Enterprise and Enterprise for Education editions of G Suite, but they’ll be available to all G Suite editions at no additional cost until July 1, 2020.”
More details are available here: https://gsuiteupdates.googleblog.com/2020/03/enabling-hangouts-meet-premium-features.html
C. Support telecommuting and remote work -- and explain to employees that telecommuting does not mean working in a high-density location, like Starbucks. If necessary, make sure your employees have the appropriate apps and mobile computing devices to support remote work.
D. Move your phone system and voicemail to the cloud is possible. It’s an easier way to retrieve messages setup call forwarding and retrieve message from home.
#9. Address your Backlog.
If you anticipate a slow-down in foot traffic or sales, consider using this time to invest in your business and to get through your “to do” backlog. Many business owners have long lists of tasks that are postponed in light of other pressing demands. Implement the new inventory tracking system that you’ve always wanted to have in place, work with employees to take advantage of direct deposit for payroll, interview new suppliers for a service that you’ve not been able to make work for your business, or implement a new commerce marketing program (for example, by using the tools and services offered by Fanbank.com) to get your business growing and thriving ahead of the competition as the COVID-19 threat fades. This is good time to make an investment in yourself, your employees, and to take stock of any unfinished tasks.
#10. Shore up your financial resources.
As working capital and cash flows may become impacted by reduced consumer demand or your ability to fulfill or service orders, plan now for lines of credit / capital to shore up your financial resources and to help you weather any downturn.
Are emergency loans for small business on the way? The details are only now being released on how the SBA and other agencies make SBA disaster loans available to business for the money already appropriated by lawmakers. And it remains to be seen if Congress will allocate an additional $50 billion as requested by President Trump. More information may later become available on SBA’s website covering disaster loans so periodically check on the SBA website:
There is a still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19 but we do know that it is a fast-moving epidemic. As a small business owner, you should prepare and you should take it seriously, but you should not panic. Acting in a calm and mindful way - with facts as your guide - will allow you and others around you to respond constructively to the risks of this virus. Small businesses are the backbone of America and the American economy and we know from history that we can survive difficult times and emerge even stronger.