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Planning for the new normal, now

Last week, the application process for federal relief programs started again due to additional funding for emergency loans. Businesses and organizations in this community were busy checking on the status of their already submitted applications or spent time trying to figure out how to apply. Local financial institutions were also busy trying to process the backlog of applicants created by the shortage in funding and determining how many new applications they could accept. With the demand for these programs still very high, there is hope that many of the local businesses and organizations in this area are able to receive the financial assistance they need to bridge the divide between the shutdown and the “new normal.”

As financial questions still linger for many, businesses and organizations will also have to start preparing for the “new normal.” Gov. Cuomo announced a strategy for a phased reopening process that emphasizes public health and safety measures including a number of important areas for businesses and organizations to consider. As highly important public health systems are created — like strengthening our health care system, and testing and tracing protocols — businesses will need to participate in the public health process by developing precautions in their operations to ensure employee and customer safety. Redesigned workplaces, changing customer interactions, and proactive infection plans are necessary areas businesses and organizations need to think about.

The strategy is a regional approach, with businesses in each economic region of the state reopening on a phased process contingent on CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations and a 14-day decline in hospitalization rates for an area. With the New York State on PAUSE order in effect until at least May 15, combined with the 14-day assessment period, there is a window to begin the process of creating and implementing these “new normal” policies. However, many businesses do not know where to turn for guidance.

As specific state guidance related to reopening policies are developed, the CDC and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) have formulated strategies to help businesses start planning now. These broad planning tools can then incorporate more specific criteria later set out by the state. For example, the CDC and OSHA recommend identifying a workplace coordinator who is responsible for COVID-19 issues and their impact on the workplace. A business owner, human resource professional or manager can all act in this capacity. What is important is not so much who the person is but how able an individual is to assess important aspects of the business or organization’s operations, evaluate how COVID-19 will affect them, and then work with management and staff to implement the best approach for ensuring public health.

The CDC and OSHA also provide suggestions for promoting proper etiquette for hand washing, coughing and sneezing, cleaning protocols, disinfectant types, scheduling in the workplace, having conversations with employees regarding their concerns, and education and training materials. Local businesses and organizations should also examine preexisting industry specific guidance from state agencies and see what guidelines already exist. Moving forward, the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce is working with public health officials and chamber partners on new training opportunities by sector to build small business resiliency in this changing business environment.

¯ CDC small business webpage: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-small-business.html

¯ OSHA guidance on preparing workplaces: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

¯ NYS industry resources:https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/home (Scroll to the bottom for “Cleaning and Disinfecting” section.)

Patrick Murphy is director of the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce

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