As millions of workers face temporary or permanent job losses due to the COVID-19 virus, state and national governments are taking steps to help employees and businesses stay afloat.
President Trump signed an $8.3 billion spending bill last week to battle COVID-19. Now, his administration is urging Congress to approve a trillion-dollar economic stimulus package. If approved, workers who have lost employment to the virus could see cash support coming their way by late April.
Business and employee advocacy groups also are piping in, heralding the news and recommending additional proposals to help affected employees and companies.
“Let’s keep going. No business or family should go bankrupt from the temporary but significant disruption caused by the coronavirus,” CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Tom Donohue said in a prepared statement Monday.
Meanwhile, in Arizona testing sites are ramping up. Commercial sites are opening up to help patients get diagnosed. Maricopa County health officials are planning drive-up testing sites.
White House proposal to sustain American jobs, businesses
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin outlined the stimulus package. If approved by Congress, the package is designed to help avert a recession and help Americans and industries.
“We want to make sure Americans get money in their pockets quickly and small-business owners have access to funds,” Mnuchin said at the White House Tuesday, who added that it contains measures to help hotels and airlines as well.
Here’s a quick snapshot of some of the proposals in the package:
• Cash payments for affected Americans that would come as soon as the end of April
• Free coronavirus testing, including for the uninsured
• Two weeks of paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave
• Stronger unemployment insurance
• Increase food security programs like food stamps
• Increase federal funds for Medicaid to support local, state, tribal and territorial areas
Nation’s largest business advocacy group calls for three steps
The United States Chamber of Commerce, representing more than three million businesses, is calling on Congress to consider a list of actions to help businesses and workers and mitigate job losses.
“The biggest issue facing businesses now is a lack of revenue due to a sudden and sharp drop in demand. Without assistance, that likely will force some businesses to choose among difficult options: pay workers less, not at all, or shut down altogether,” the chamber said in a press release issued Monday.
The organization is urging Congress and the president to adopt three solutions:
• Cancel payroll taxes payments paid by employers for the months of March, April, and May. Employers send more than $100 billion to the federal government monthly in the form of Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes. Collectively, these taxes add just over 15 percent to the cost of employing the average employee. Temporary relief from these taxes would give businesses more breathing room and operating capital to keep paying their employees and avoid layoffs.
• Expand and streamline loan programs for small businesses experiencing revenue loss from COVID-19. The Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster loan program for those impacted by the Coronavirus should be immediately made available nationwide, eliminating the complex and time-consuming local certification processes.
• Enable the creation of credit facilities to provide loans and loan guarantees to employers with more than 500 employees experiencing significant revenue loss from the Coronavirus.
In addition to these steps, the U.S. Chamber is proposing a list of proposals in four areas: supply chain disruptions, business operation and revenue disruption, employee support, and small and medium enterprises. For a complete list of the recommendations, go to: Letter to Congress.
Public and private providers ramping up testing in Arizona
In addition to the state’s health lab, an increasing number of private health providers are offering testing. The Maricopa County Department of Public Health is also working on opening drive-in testing sites for patients with severe symptoms.
On Monday, the Arizona Department of Health Services Director Cara Christ announced that she has issued a standing order to allow Banner Health in partnership with Sonora Quest Laboratories to test anyone who is having symptoms. No doctor’s referral is needed. More details are expected later this week, including whether there will be a charge for testing.
Patients who obtain a test will have to agree to quarantine themselves until they get the results, Christ said. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are the most common symptoms. Banner also has an online tool where patients can diagnose their symptoms online.
Also on Monday, Maricopa County’s Department of Public Health announced it is working to have drive-in testing clinics for patients with severe symptoms.
Patients would call ahead to get an appointment, said Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for the county’s Disease Control division.
“Then we are going to require that those people who do come for testing be symptomatic and sign a normal consent form and agreement that they will self-quarantine for at least 72 hours until after their symptoms resolve,” Sunenshine said.
Citizens asked to limit gatherings as cases grow
As of Tuesday, there were 20 confirmed and presumed cases of the virus in Arizona. Individuals over age 70 with underlying health conditions like diabetes and heart and lung disease are most at risk of suffering severe symptoms and death.
Cases will swell as more people become ill and public researchers aggressively track cases, local and national health officials said.
For now, the risk in Arizona remains “minimal.” Areas with heightened risks include Maricopa County with nine confirmed or presumed cases. Four other countries have confirmed cases: Pinal, Pima, Navajo and Graham.
To prevent the spread, Arizona DHS officials are recommending:
• Entire families to stay home and contact their medical provider is one member tests positive for COVID-19
• Restaurants discourage dining-in in areas where cases have been confirmed, and to provide curbside pickup or drive-through service instead
• Cancellation or postponement of gatherings or meetings of 10 or more people
• Avoid visits to nursing homes, retirement and long-term care facilities unless providing critical assistance
Resources for businesses, citizens to stop the virus
National and local organizations and public health officials are providing information and guides for individuals and industry to reduce the spread of the virus.
For the business community specifically, the CDC has issued guidelines for employees to prevent the spread at: guide for employers.
What to do if you think you should be tested for COVID-19
Call your healthcare professional if you feel sick with a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19, or if you live in or have recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. Your healthcare provider will work with the local health department and ADHS to determine if you need to be tested for COVID-19.
For more answers to frequently asked questions and information about the COVID-19 response in Arizona, go online to azhealth.gov/COVID19.
This story first appeared on Chamber Business News.