What’s Essential during COVID-19?

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By Patricia O’Brien:


When businesses started closing their doors to the public in an effort to lessen the spread of COVID-19, some legitimate questions arose:

What is an essential business, and am I an essential employee?

Most of us are doing everything we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones, but many Americans are still going into work each and every day while the non-essentials are either working remotely or have been laid off.

According to the Pan American Health Organization: Essential Services are the services and functions that are absolutely necessary, even during a pandemic. They maintain the health and welfare of the public. Without these services, sickness, poverty, violence, and chaos would likely result.

Usually, municipalities within each state determine which retail services are to be deemed essential and that is still true; however, many of these decisions are now being made by state governance and by the businesses themselves until directed to shut down. The federal government is playing a supportive role only.

New Jersey Guidelines

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order No. 107 on March 21, 2020, directing all residents to stay at home until further notice. However, there are plenty of services that have been deemed essential and so, must be manned: healthcare, pharmacies, and medical supply stores top the list, of course, but other essential businesses also provide necessary products, such as grocery stores, pet stores and banks.

For a complete list of essential and non-essential services, visit https://covid19.nj.gov/faqs/nj-information/general-public/governor-murphy-announces-statewide-stay-at-home-order-closure-of-all-non-essential-retail-businesses

In addition, these employees are considered essential:

  • law enforcement officers
  • fire fighters
  • other first responders
  • cashiers or store clerks
  • construction workers
  • utility workers
  • repair workers
  • warehouse workers
  • lab researchers
  • IT maintenance workers
  • janitorial and custodial staff
  • certain administrative staff

Essential goods are the food and other supplies that a municipality needs to survive, such as medical supplies and gasoline. Non-essential services are the services that are not essential to a municipality’s survival and can be stopped or closed down during a pandemic, like:

  • Tourism
  • Culture/entertainment
  • Libraries
  • Retail stores
  • Barber shops

Protecting Employees

In this unprecedented time, the nature of the pandemic response is raising more questions than answers about the obligations essential businesses have to protect their employees. Some businesses, like PNC Bank, have their employees on rotation so that the branches maintain skeletal staffs and other staffers can stay home for two weeks at a time.

Wegmans and other grocery stores have placed tape on the ground to keep customers at the registers six-feet apart, following social-distancing requirements. Temporary guard walls have been placed at registers and cashiers are sanitizing their stations after each customer.

For a complete list of how to clean and disinfect surfaces during COVID-19, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/disinfecting-your-home.html

As we are being told to stay inside, we’re also encouraged to get outside and stay active—while not going too near anyone else—and it is the Internet that has become essential during #stayhome. Comcast is one company that is striving to keep their customers connected by promising 24/7 network monitoring, which means their technology and engineering teams are working constantly.

Non-retail businesses may stay open, but must accommodate their workforce, wherever practicable, for telework or work-from-home arrangements. Firms such as International Products Corporation (IPC) in Burlington, NJ, manufacturer of cleaners and lubricants, continues to operate, not only accommodating their employees working from home, but protecting their essential employees still on the job.

Kathy Wyrofsky, president of IPC, explained how her company is dealing with the crisis:

“We had to immediately set up remote work opportunities for all non-essential workers, in some cases purchasing hardware—keeping our IT professionals very busy! We have made protective equipment such as gloves and masks available to essential personnel, and increased surface sanitizations. Only essential staff are reporting to work on a rotating basis, and anyone who shows symptoms or has been exposed to COVID-19 is not to report to work.  In addition, we have instituted No visitors, No travel, and special shipping and receiving policies and, of course, we practice social distancing.”

Continuity of Operations

Continuity of Government Plans and Continuity of Operations Plans for businesses and organizations help them to continue providing their essential services during times of crisis. Governments and businesses use these plans to prepare for disasters, such as a pandemic, during times when it is difficult or impossible to operate normally.

As the COVID-19 pandemic ripples throughout the world economy it may begin to change the way global supply chains work, as we rely so heavily on Chinese materials and manufacturing. The Institute for Supply Management, which conducts monthly economic surveys, found that nearly 75 percent of the companies it contacted in late February and early March reported some kind of supply-chain disruption due to the coronavirus.

“Moving ocean cargo to our global customers and distributors has been challenging.  There have been delays and cancellations,” Wyrofsky added. “We are lucky, though; almost all of our raw materials are domestically sourced, which is often not the case for other US manufacturing companies.

“As we continue to get daily updates on the virus and how it spreads, we at IPC continue to follow all CDC recommendations to provide our workers with a safe environment as they continue to meet the needs of our customers.”

Stay well, stay safe.

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