Spokane Journal of Business

Spokane governments declare local virus emergency

Businesses, workers urged to record losses; resources available

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Spokane County, the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley, and other area municipalities have initiated emergency declaration procedures to assist the organizations, businesses, workers, and the general population in a regional response to COVID-19.

Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich announced formation of an Emergency Operations Center at a press conference on Monday at the Spokane Fire Department Training Center, during which he urged businesses to log their losses—and losses of their employees—in order to apply for economic aid.

“What we do at the local level is going to determine how well we recover from this,” Knezovich says.

Meantime, some government entities have started making resources available to help affected businesses, workers, and residents.

The Washington state Employment Security Department has issued emergency statewide rules to provide support to employees and employers impacted by temporary layoffs, isolation, and quarantine, says ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine in posting on the department’s website.

For workers, these benefits may apply:

*Workers may receive unemployment benefits and employers may get relief of benefit charges if an employer needs to shut down operations temporarily because a worker becomes sick and other workers need to be isolated or quarantined as a result of COVID-19.

*A standby period of up to two weeks will be available for some part-time workers as well as full-time workers, who have an expected restart date with their employer, during which they can receive unemployment benefits without having to seek other employment.

*Workers who are asked to isolate or quarantine by a medical professional or public health official as a result of exposure to COVID-19 may receive unemployment benefits, and work search requirements could be waived so long as they have a return date with their employer.

If a worker falls seriously ill and is forced to quit, they cannot collect unemployment benefits while they are seriously ill but may be eligible once they recover and are able and available for work.

LeVine, who also is co-chairwoman of the governor’s COVID-19 Economic Impact Task Force, says the rules allow current unemployment claimants who are in isolation or quarantine as a result of COVID-19 more leniency when it comes to related deadlines and mandatory appointments, such as deadlines for applying for training programs.

The rules also provide more leniency when it comes to financial penalties for employers who file their tax reports late, pay their taxes late, or miss deadlines as a result of COVID-19, she says.

ESD offers a frequently updated comparison guide listing common questions from workers and businesses and the department’s responses.

As workplaces are a likely place for people to be exposed to coronavirus, the state Division of Labor and Industries urges employers to be frontline partners in the effort to contain the spread of the outbreak and keep workers safe and informed.

L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has issued a coronavirus alert with these recommendations:

*Implement business/worksite specific social distancing (including worker and customer interactions).

*Post educational posters for employees.

*Encourage sick employees to stay or go home.

*Promote frequent and thorough handwashing with adequate supplies of soap and running water, and when not readily available, hand rubs consisting of at least 60 percent alcohol.

*Encourage respiratory etiquette, including covering coughs and sneezes.

*Discourage the sharing of utensils, desks, phones, and work tools.

*Maintain regular housekeeping/disinfection practices.

The alert also has links related to other workplace resources regarding coronavirus.

L&I also has other links with outbreak information regarding paid sick leave and worker’s compensation.

The U.S. Small Business Administration can offer Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million for small businesses affected by the outbreak. The program is intended to support small businesses to help overcome temporary loss of revenue.

The SBA has launched a website to provide information about resources small businesses can access regarding the pandemic, including financing and counseling services.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also offers this guidance for employers for planning, preparing and responding to coronavirus.

The Washington State Department of Health provides more workplace and employer resources and recommendations.

As of Sunday afternoon, there were three confirmed positive cases in Spokane County, 769 confirmed positive cases statewide and 42 deaths. The Washington state Department of Health regarding the COVID-19 outbreak provides the latest updates.

The link also has information on what do if you have symptoms or have been exposed and how to get tested.

The state has waived costs for COVID-19 testing. State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has issued an emergency order to state-regulated health plans to cover testing, including any lab fees, and the related visit for COVID-19 testing without copays or deductibles. The order also suspends any requirements for prior authorization for treatment of testing of COVID-19 and allows enrollees to be treated by other providers if there aren’t enough in-network providers.

 

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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