I’m not certain the comment came from a small-business owner, but it captured my reaction, too, and I don’t even own a business:
“This is an absolutely overwhelming amount of compliance to get in place.”
I was listening in last weekend to a webinar presented by Kate Baker, interim director of the Small Business Development Center at the University at Albany, which offers counseling and other services at no cost to local entrepreneurs. The topic was New York’s long-awaited reopening from the COVID-19 shutdown, and what responsibilities come along with business owners throwing open their doors.
The state, which ordered all businesses closed in March to slow the spread of the virus (save those deemed essential), has instituted a phased reopening by geographic region and type of business. As of this week, non-essential businesses in a handful of sectors, including construction, manufacturing and agriculture, can reopen everywhere in New York except downstate areas hit hard by COVID-19.
Before reopening, though, businesses are required to develop a safety plan aimed at keeping the virus in check, and they have to send to the state an affirmation that they have read through guidelines released by the governor’s office to help formulate that plan.
The state does not have to approve the safety plans, Baker noted during the webinar, but she repeatedly encouraged businesses to make them “robust.”
“You will be accountable for them as a business owner,” she said. “…There’s a lot of burden on your shoulders.”
The guidelines requiring affirmation fall into five categories: physical distancing, protective equipment, hygiene and cleaning, communication, and screening. (Affirmation forms are available online at forward.ny.gov.)
Practices now common to Covid-19 times – staying six feet apart, wearing face coverings and hand washing/sanitizing – are incorporated into the workplace under the guidelines. And formerly commonplace work practices are discouraged, such as in-person meetings – tele- or video- conferencing is favored instead.
Employers will be required to supply face masks and other protective equipment to workers at no cost, and they will have to log employees’ temperatures and health status daily, or establish a self-reporting mechanism. Workplace visitors must sign in and provide contact information, should an outbreak of the virus occur and they need to be alerted.
The guidelines also offer detailed rules for specific industries.
“It’s going to be important that you reopen your business the right way – you’re really only going to have one shot at this,” Baker noted in the webinar.
Later, I asked her if she sensed business owners were feeling overwhelmed by the reopening process, as had been suggested by a webinar attendee.
She said most owners “understand the need for the guidelines in order to prevent future closures.”
“They want to open and stay open, and if this is what it takes to do so safely, they are more than happy to comply,” she said.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].