Industry responds with resources

Industry responds with resources
Industry leaders are mobilizing available communications channels to provide guidance on worker and customer health and business operations during the COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: freepik.com

In response to the coronavirus causing COVID-19, industry leaders throughout the state are mobilizing communications channels to provide resources and issue guidance for both their members and the customers they serve. In addition to staying home when feeling sick, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) continues to emphasize its general guidance for avoiding or spreading infection, which includes:

  • Washing hands frequently for at least 20 seconds;
  • Using hand sanitizer frequently;
  • Avoiding close proximity to sick individuals;
  • Disinfecting objects and surfaces; and
  • Covering mouth when sneezing or coughing.

The state Employment Security Department has also released a graph determining if workers qualify for sick leave, unemployment insurance, paid family leave and industrial insurance (L&I) due to direct or indirect effects of the virus.

Small businesses of any industry negatively affected by the virus can apply for federal disaster loans to help meet ongoing obligations and expenses.

Public Utilities

Despite the increased telecommunication work occurring across the region, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) said in a statement that it’s too early to tell how much demand has been added to its system, which services 1.1 million electric and 840,000 natural gas customers. However, the company is reducing relighting services for natural gas customers and advising them to contact local contractors if service is needed.

PSE is also not disconnecting customers for nonpayment and waiving late fees. The company has created an energy assistance portal for low-income ratepayers.

Hospitality

Gov. Jay Inslee’s March 16 executive order closed all restaurants, bars, hotel gyms, food courts and coffee shops until at least March 31. However, restaurants are still able to provide take-out and delivery. Beer and wine deliveries are also available. Seattle restaurants can have loading zone established near them by calling (206) 684-ROAD.

The state Department of Health has issued guidelines for food workers and establishments, and the Environmental Protection Agency has put out a list of registered sanitizers effective against the coronavirus.

Real Estate

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) has issued guidance for real estate agents  by offering ways to assess risk, offer alternative virtual tours and proper sanitation steps if open houses or tours are held. The guidelines also address determining the health of clients before driving with them.

The Northwest Multiple Listing Service has disabled the public and broker open house features in the Matrix system, which means open house information will not be publicly available. The Washington REALTORS® has ceased non-essential staff and leadership travel and cancelled meetings and events until March 31, which NAR advises.

Banking

Banks and credit unions at this time remain open in Washington, though JPMorgan Chase recently announced it may close 1,000 – or 20 percent – of its branches throughout the U.S. The American Bankers Association recently hosted a member-only webinar on managing virus risk.

The Washington Bankers Association (WBA) has postponed both its March 26 Marketing Conference and its April 7-8 Education/HR Conference. To mitigate risk, WBA says its members have turned to remote work when possible, closed lobbies and increased sanitation and cleaning.

The association encourages customers to use online banking, ATMs or bank drive-thru windows to conduct financial transactions. Customers experiencing financial hardship are also encouraged to contact their financial institution to discuss possible assistance.  More information from WBA is available on its website.

Construction

While on-site construction activity is still allowed, builders may experience delays getting permits from local governments, in part due to recommendations at both the state and federal levels against public meetings. Counties are advising telecommunication if possible. The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties is recommending that its members consult King County’s business planning guide for maintaining operations amid current conditions.

Corporate

Amazon workers who are able to do so are encouraged to work remotely, while the company is prioritizing restocking its supply of critical household items and medical supplies. Products already en route to customers or currently in stock in stores are not affected.

T-Mobile has closed 80 percent of its retail stores until March 31 while reducing operating hours at the remaining stores. Corporate employees are encouraged to work remotely when possible.

Boeing is restricting overseas travel for employees and instructing workers to telecommute when possible, and has provided company.

All Microsoft retail stores have been closed. The company has created a new coronavirus map allowing users to track worldwide cases.

Travel and Cruise Industry

Alaska Airlines continues to offer flights to and from Seattle, though the company has implemented an enhanced aircraft cleaning process between flights. Alaska airplanes already use High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. Additional sanitation and cleaning occurs at kiosks, hubs, gates and airport lounges. More information on the company’s actions is available .

The Port of Seattle has delayed the launch of the 2020 cruise season after Canada’s Transport Minister suspended cruises across Canada until July 1. CDC recommends avoiding cruises, particularly for older adults.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing is still active in the state, while Impact Washington advises that manufacturers adhere to the CDC’s interim guidance and recommendations from the state DOH for protecting  workers. Also provided is a template for creating a Crisis/Business Continuity Plan as well as information on responding to supply chain disruptions.

Agriculture

Washington Apples Commission Communications Outreach Coordinator Toni Adams told Lens that her organization hasn’t received the latest export data showing to what extent shipments to China and elsewhere have been affected by current conditions. However, Adams said that the industry has experienced a shift by customers from physical to online store purchases. Physical stores have also eliminated in-store samples.

For dairy farmers, the recent surge in grocery store purchases has “put pressure on our ability to maintain consistent supply of all our products,” according to a tweet by Darigold. However, the Northwest-based dairy co-op says it is continuing to make deliveries.

In a recent podcast interview with Save Family Farming Communications Director Dillon Honcoop, dairy markets columnist Lee Mielke said: “we have a serious situation…and it’s impacting all of the markets, including dairy.” Although China is now allowing U.S. dairy exports, dairy farmers also produce butter and cheese consumed at restaurants, along with milk in school cafeterias. However, Mielke added that it’s a “fool’s errand to try to speculate when it’s going to end.”

Retail

In a recent newsletter, the Washington Retail Association noted that “many stores selling non-essential goods have made the difficult decision to shut down operations for a period of time to allow for social distancing measures to take place. Other stores that remain open are adjusting hours to allow for more cleaning, sanitation and stocking to occur.”

RetailDive has provide a comprehensive list of the status of major retailers as well as employee impacts.

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