1) Health Care Is the First to Reopen
- As of this week, the state began a gradual rebooting of the economy. Under phase one, doctor’s offices, clinics and other health care providers can reopen for non-urgent visits and diagnostic work if they follow new protocols, including eliminating waiting areas, enforcing social distancing, conducting temperature checks on staff and patients, and wearing personal protective equipment. Providers that cannot meet the guidelines and PPE requirements should not reopen until they can.
- Dentists, physical therapists, and chiropractors can now practice also, but are required to follow additional protocols to ensure that staff and patients are properly protected.
- In the coming weeks, health care providers will be allowed to restart outpatient and ambulatory procedures and eventually full surgeries. In addition to the other protocols, these patients will have to be screened for COVID-19 and facilities must have a 14-day supply of PPE.
- During the phased reopenings, state health officials will closely monitor COVID-19 caseloads and testing data to make sure the virus does not make a resurgence. If it does, restrictions could be reinstated.
- Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack says people need not fear going to their doctor or to an emergency room if they need care unrelated to the coronavirus. “We know a lot of people have stayed home when they probably should have sought care,” he says. “If you think you’re having a heart attack, you think you’re having a stroke, go to the hospital. They’re prepared for you; they’ll take good care of you.”
2) Expect a Phased-In Reopening of Other Businesses
- Later this week Gov. Andy Beshear will announce initial plans to gradually reopen other sectors of the state’s economy starting May 11. He has asked businesses, trade associations, unions, other groups to submit proposals to state officials on how they can conduct normal activities while protecting employees and customers. Business can submit reopening proposals and find mind more information at HealthAtWork.ky.gov.
- Beshear has already said businesses need to determine how to enforce proper social distancing among employees and customers, do daily temperature checks on staff, and acquire enough face masks and other protective gear their employees will need. Dr. Stack says state officials want to work with industry to devise protocols that they will be able to follow.
- Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ashli Watts says her organization will soon deliver its proposal for reopening business sectors they represent. “We have never faced this kind of pandemic before, and so we are learning as we go,” says Watts. “The planning and the preparation that we’re doing right now is absolutely critical.”
- Along with procedures and protocols, Watts says businesses should clearly communicate to their employees and their customers the steps being taken to protect their health. She says that will help alleviate concerns people have about returning to the workplace or patronizing an establishment.
- A big question that remains unanswered is a company’s potential legal liability if an employee is infected by coronavirus while at work, or if a customer is exposed to the virus while in a business. Watts says the chamber is consulting with lawyers about that issue. She hopes to present a webinar on liability issues in the next week.
3) Retailers Need to Get Innovative
- Kentucky Retail Federation President Tod Griffin says liability is also a concern for the nation’s stores and shopkeepers. He says national trade associations have lobbied to include liability protections in the federal relief packages enacted by Congress, but he says such language has yet to make it into the final legislation passed so far.
- Griffin says his federation has surveyed its members and will submit a reopening proposal to the governor’s office soon. He says his sector can benefit from the lessons learned by essential businesses like groceries, pharmacies, and hardware stores that have remained open during the crisis. “They’ve lived through this and made adjustments, and figured out what’s working and what’s not,” says Grifin. “They’re in a very unique position to provide some input to those non-essential retailers as they begin to look to open up.”
- Consider innovative ways to conduct your business. Griffin says stores may need to boost their online presence, deploy more social media marketing, limit business hours, control in-person traffic, conduct business by appointment, or do virtual showings. Retailers will also need to find reliable sources of facemasks and hand sanitizer.
- Griffin says one underreported aspect of the pandemic is that many landlords aren’t receiving normal rent payments. He says he’s uncertain what impact that will have on the market for leased commercial and retail space going forward.
4) Restaurants Are Used to Providing Healthy Workplaces
- The Kentucky Restaurant Association delivered its proposal for reopening last week, according to the group’s president and CEO Stacy Roof. She says the plan is structured around protocols that restaurants have always followed, including strict personal hygiene among staff, and frequent cleaning and sanitizing. She says these steps will help make customers feel comfortable about dining out again. “They have to know this is the cleanest place outside of our own homes or outside of health care that they could ever want to be to enjoy a meal,” says Roof.
- The dining experience may look different though. Restaurants may be required to reduce seating capacity to allow more distance between diners. Roof says that could be difficult for smaller cafes that already operate with limited seating. She says having even fewer seats may make it unprofitable for those establishments to reopen.
- Roof says employees will be expected to wear masks, either those they acquire themselves or ones provided by their employers. Restaurant staff should also expect daily temperature checks.
- The federal Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Administration has had mixed results for restaurants, according to Roof. She says the forgivable loans do enable restauranteurs to keep paying their staff, but the businesses can’t be open to the public. So they’re paying staff to either not work, or do special cleaning or maintenance tasks. Another irony is that some staff may not want to come back to work because they are earning more on unemployment.
- But with limited loan funding from Congress, many small business owners like Mae Suramek of Noodle Nirvana in Berea have been unable to secure PPP money. She says entrepreneurs are willing to do what it takes to succeed, but without revenues, she says it’s hard to pay her staff, rent, or utilities. “It’s a very scary place to be,” says Suramek. “We’re sitting her watching our entire life’s work potentially be gone in the blink of an eye.”
5) Everyone Will Face a New Normal
Until scientists develop a coronavirus vaccine, Dr. Stack says life won’t return to how it was before COVID-19 arrived. But he says we can achieve a new normal that allows some semblance of our old routines while also protecting people from the coronavirus.
- All of us will need to get used to wearing facemasks in public. Even homemade masks can help, says Allison Adams, president of the Kentucky Health Departments Association. “A cloth mask to protect yourself, and you from others and others from you, that’s all that’s necessary to go out and go grocery shopping,” she says.
- In addition to having your temperature checked at work, you may also be screened before going into some businesses.
- Expect telehealth to become a more common part of health care. Telecommunications tools like video chats can be used for things like initial consults or routine check-ins with your regular doctor, or when you need to talk with a specialist who lives in a distant city. That will reduce the number of people who have to go into a doctor’s office, thereby limiting the potential spread of COVID-19. But Dr. Jon Klein of the University of Louisville School of Medicine says telehealth will never totally replace a physical interaction between doctor and patient. “It’s going to be tougher, it’s going to require some innovation our part,” says Klein, “but that healing touch is in some ways I always think the most effective technology that we have in medicine.”
- Contact tracing will be a fact of life. If you do develop coronavirus symptoms, or you test positive for COVID-19, be ready to quarantine yourself and tell public health officials who you’ve been contact with in recent days. Adams says those who have had direct exposure to someone infected with the coronavirus may be asked to self-quarantine until health officials determine whether they are also at risk of spreading the virus to other people.
- Testing for the virus itself and for antibodies to the virus will become more widespread. Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky President and CEO Ben Chandler says testing will not only help limit the spread of COVID-19 but also provide valuable scientific data about infection hot spots, populations at greatest risk, and the potential for herd immunity to the virus. “There are a lot of things that we can learn from that kind of scientific testing,” says Chandler. “You’ve got to follow the data.”