Information for BRI Members About the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 Outbreak

Last Updated: March 26, 2020

Westchester County has been heavily affected by the Novel Coronavirus and the disease caused by the virus, COVID-19. Already there are nearly 6,000 people in Westchester County who have tested positive for COVID-19, and it is estimated that thousands of people who may have been exposed to the virus have been directed by the Westchester County Health Department or by New York State to self-quarantine for 14 days, whether or not they currently display symptoms.

The BRI will regularly update this page with links to the best practical information available on reasonable and effective precautions to keep those who live and work within your building or office safe. If you have a specific question or suggestion not listed below, please email us at info@buildersinstitute.org or call us at 914-273-0730.


Preventing the Spread of Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19

Public health experts and government at all levels have issued identical recommendations on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19. These precautions are similar to steps for avoiding the flu, including:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue (not your hands), then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a cleaning product that contains bleach.
  • Stay home when you are sick.

Employers should inform and remind employees of these precautions, and encourage them to stay home and take a sick day if they are feeling unwell or have respiratory illness symptoms, even if they have no reason to believe it is related to COVID-19.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published these helpful reminder graphics that can be shared with residents and employees alike.

Keeping the Home SafeKeeping the Workplace Safe

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about emergency “social distancing”?

Please note that in recent days, the CDC recommendations for practicing “social distancing” to prevent the exponential increase in transmission of the virus have dramatically increased.

President Trump outlined new recommendations to avoid gatherings of 10 persons or more throughout the United States until at least March 30.

This comes on top of the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) . The CDC recommends “that for the next 8 weeks [until at least May 10], organizers (whether groups or individuals) cancel or postpone in-person events that consist of 50 people or more throughout the United States.”

Although the CDC guidance explicitly “does not apply to the day to day operation of organizations such as schools, institutes of higher learning, or businesses,” we urge you to take the recommendation seriously and plan accordingly. Past recommendations during a public health crisis have quickly become enforceable emergency orders at the state or local level.

 

What has the Governor ordered for businesses in regards to emergency “social distancing”?

The Governor has issued multiple emergency Executive Orders. The requirement that non-exempt businesses keep 75% of their workforce home begins Saturday, March 21 at 8:00 pm. The requirement that non-exempt businesses keep 100% of their workforce home begins Sunday, March 22 at 8:00 pm. These orders are set to expire April 17, though it could always be extended by a future order.

The order requires that “All businesses and not-for-profit entities in the state shall utilize, to the maximum extent possible, any telecommuting or work from home procedures that they can safely utilize.”

There are a number of exceptions listed by Empire State Development for “Any essential business or entity providing essential services or functions,” including specifically the following:

  • “construction;”
  • “vendors of essential services necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences or other essential businesses;”
  • “vendors that provide essential services or products, including logistics and technology support, child care and services needed to ensure the continuing operation of government agencies and provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public”

The order only makes differentiation between what is or is not an “essential business.” It does not differentiate between who is or is not an essential employee within that business. If the employee supports the essential provision of the service (for example, by processing payroll to keep the other employees working) and the business is an “essential business,” our understanding is they are not subject to the work-from-home requirement.

The guidance from ESD does make a differentiation for businesses that  “operate or provide both essential and non-essential services, supplies or support.” In such cases, “only those lines and/or business operations that are necessary to support the essential services, supplies, or support are exempt from the restrictions.” For example, if your business contains property management and real estate sales departments, the department supporting the provision of property management services is exempt from the work-from-home requirement, but the department supporting real estate sales is not.

Please note that even if your business is exempt from the work from home requirement, the order still requires you to enact social distancing measures to the greatest extent possible — specifically to allow for all persons in public to remain at least six feet from others.

Finally, whether or not the business is exempt, it is worth remembering the public health rationale behind this emergency order. The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Westchester County alone has quintupled in only a few short days. Although much of this can be attributed to a higher volume of testing than was possible before, the intent of all of these measures is to keep people at a safe distance from each other wherever possible and to take every available safety precaution for yourselves and your employees.

What else should be done for construction workers to keep them safe at a jobsite?

National Association of Home Builders has put together a detailed safety plan to prevent worker exposure to coronavirus, protective measures to be taken on the jobsite, personal protective equipment and work practice controls to be used, cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and OSHA guidance on what to do if a worker becomes sick.

The New York State Builders Association (NYSBA) sent a letter to Governor Cuomo on March 26, in part reacting to media reports questioning the wisdom of construction and home building being deemed an “essential business.” NYSBA provided a COVID-19 Exposure Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Plan for Construction and recommended that the Governor adopt it as a statewide standard during the pandemic.

 

What has the Governor ordered for public employees in regards to emergency “social distancing”?

The governor has required state agencies and local governments to reduce their in-person workforce by 50% as well, with some limited exceptions. As a result, many of our members are seeing disruptions in the smooth processing of their interactions with public agencies at all levels of government, most particularly at the state, county, and local levels. In some cases, this is linked to a previous emergency measure requiring governmental bodies and public entities to reduce the employees at their workplace by 50%

The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) has issued an advisory opinion on how this will effect filing submissions, timelines for response, and other matters at the Office of Rent Administration (ORA) and the Tenant Protection Unit (TPU).

BRI and our statewide partners have heard anecdotally that municipal offices which deal with inspections, building codes, and the issuing of permits have in some cases become non-responsive, operating at irregular hours, or not operating at all. Since construction has been listed as an “essential service” by the Governor’s executive order, such offices will need to be more accommodating and flexible.

If you are having trouble getting a timely response from a municipal office on a construction-related project, the BRI staff is ready to assist you. Please call our office at 914-273-0730 or email us at  info@buildersinstitute.org

My co-op has an annual meeting happening soon — what do I do to comply with emergency “social distancing” measures?

Concerned co-op boards that do not wish to meet in person should consider alternative approaches to holding meetings, including either Video Conferencing or Telephone Conferencing. Finger & Finger has put together a one-pager with recommendations and guidance on how to hold a telephone or video conference board meeting.

 

What about cleaning and disinfection?

The 32BJ Training Fund has created this video to provide building service workers with guidance on maintaining self, healthy building environments during the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19)

The CDC has also issued very specific recommendations on cleaning and disinfection which are worth reviewing.

Westchester County is requesting that all owners of buildings in which the County leases space perform a Level 2 cleaning on a daily basis. Those owners with buildings in the proximity to a known CoronaVirus/COVID-19 case, should perform a Level 3 cleaning on a daily basis. They’ve provided a link to the CDC requirements for a Level 2 and Level 3 cleaning.

The CDC has also published recommended strategies for the next 30 days of mitigation specifically for New Rochelle, NY.

Finally, there is a lot of bad advice and bad information being disseminated by less than reputable sources on everything from non-medical home remedies to homemade alternatives to cleaning products and supplies that may be temporarily scarce. We urge you and your employees to avoid using any atypical concoctions, products, or home remedies for cleaning or other purposes.

 

How should I approach dealing with quarantined residents and/or employees?

Local county health departments, including the Westchester County Health Department, have established different quarantine levels for people who may have come into contact with the coronavirus, whether or not they are currently symptomatic for COVID-19. This is being referred to as a “self-quarantine,” but that term does not mean that these 14 day “shelter in place” requirements are non-mandatory.

You should review New York State’s guidance for individuals under quarantine. Note that a number of requirements have implications for multifamily buildings, including garbage pickup, food delivery, and shared bathrooms.

Given the current inability to determine who may have been infected with the coronavirus even without developing symptoms and the inability to differentiate between residents who are working from home as opposed to residents who are undergoing self or mandatory quarantine, we strongly recommend that all non-emergency repairs in apartments be suspended. By “emergency” repairs, we mean the traditional areas of fire, smoke, and water.

For emergency repairs, we recommend that you clearly communicate to your workers what will be provided to them to ensure their safety. Owners and managers should be providing goggles and gloves in any case, and masks and disposable haz mat suits would be appropriate in the current circumstance.

 

What employment issues or scenarios should I prepare for?

National Law Review has published a detailed FAQ of issues that are worth consideration in dealing with employees who have or who may have come into contact with coronavirus.

If you are not yet using direct deposit, we strongly recommend you set direct deposit up for your workers at this time. Some of you will recall during the last contract negotiation with 32BJ SEIU, not all of the workers wanted direct deposit at that time. Clearly, times have changed. Each check transmitted by direct deposit eliminates unnecessary close contact interactions, potentially including the worker picking up a paycheck from a central office, a managing agent visiting multiple buildings to drop off paychecks, and subsequent visits to the bank to deposit said checks.

At this time, there has been no indication that shelter-in-place or curfew orders will be forthcoming as they have for California and Italy. However, a simple and reasonable precaution would be, if you are an “essential business” as categorized by Empire State Development’s guidance, to produce a letter for each of your employees on your company stationery stating who they work for, where they work, and that yours is considered an “essential business” pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order. They should have this letter in their possession as they travel to and from work.

 

What are the new paid sick leave policies that have been enacted in reaction to COVID-19?

At the state level, Governor Cuomo signed into law A. 10152 / S. 8090, “to provide sick leave benefits to employees and to provide sick leave benefits, paid family leave, and benefits due to disability for employees subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19.”

Effective immediately:

  • employees subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantines working for businesses with 1-10 employees will receive unpaid sick days, full job protection, and can immediately qualify for paid family leave and temporary disability benefits.
  • employees subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantines working for medium sized businesses (11-99 employees) and small employers (1-10 employees) with a net income of $1 million a year will receive 5 paid sick days, full job protection, and can immediately qualify for paid family leave and temporary disability benefits at the conclusion of their sick leave.
  • employees subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantines working for large businesses (100 or more employees) and public employees will receive paid sick days for the duration of the quarantine, plus full job protection.
  • employees qualify for paid family leave to care for a minor dependent child who is subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19.

Effective 180 days after the bill becomes law (and so not directly responding to the public health emergency):

  • employees working for small employers (1-4 employees), employees will receive five unpaid sick days per year, plus full job protection when taking sick days.
  • employees working for medium sized employers (5-99 employees) and small employers (1-4 employees) with a net 1 income of $1 million a year, employees will receive five paid sick days per year, plus full job protection when taking sick days.
  • employees working for large employers (100 or more employees), employees will receive seven paid sick days per year, plus full job protection when taking sick days.

At the federal level, President Trump signed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” on March 18. Jackson Lewis has written up a summary of the new employer responsibilities under the law, as well as an FAQ.

I live, work, or own or manage property in New Rochelle. How should I expect to interact with the NYS designated “containment zone”?

The containment zone which was established March 12 was discontinued as of March 25. It should no longer be an issue.

What economic assistance programs for business owners or property owners have been put into place?

Small businesses and not-for-profits in Westchester are now eligible to receive low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital if they have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). We wanted to share this important information with our members. Our small businesses and not-for-profits are the lifeblood of our community. This first wave of assistance from the federal government is essential to provide some stability to our businesses and not-for-profits struggling with cash flow. The BCW is grateful to the SBA for including us in the declaration. Access to EIDL funds will help businesses cover basic essentials, such as payroll and fixed costs, in the short term, and will bring much needed certainty and stability at a time when it’s needed most.

For more information and to begin the process, please follow up with the SBA (https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19) or the Business Council of Westchester (https://thebcw.org/)

On March 19, the New York State Department of Financial Services issued a new directive to New York State mortgage servicers to provide 90-day mortgage relief to borrowers impacted by the novel coronavirus. The directive includes:

  • Waiving mortgage payments based on financial hardship;
  • No negative reporting to credit bureaus;
  • Grace period for loan modification;
  • No late payment fees or online payment fees; and
  • Postponing or suspending foreclosures.

Eligibility for waived payments is specifically based on financial hardship. The 90 days constitutes a grace period; those who participate in the program will still owe their payments, but will be allowed to pay them at a later date.

 

Where should I go for additional health information on Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19?

The New York State Department of Health has set up a hotline at (888) 364-3065 where Department of Health experts will be available to answer questions regarding COVID-19.

Additionally, you can consult these websites for further information. They are being updated regularly.

Westchester County Department of Health: Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

NYS Department of Health: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

CDC:  Preventing COVID-19 Spread in Communities
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) COVID-19 Safety and Health page

 

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