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To Open or Not to Open? That is the Question

To Open or Not to Open? That is the Question

I know we all desperately need some good news these days and NPP has been trying to do our part (check out #CovidCantStopGOOD tags on our social media and learn more about the Comedy Campaign here) to lighten things up a bit. With that said, I think we are all aware that a return to normal won’t happen anytime soon and there won’t be an easy way to navigate the “opening” of our organizations.

These “re-starting” or “re-opening” discussions really seem to be a public relations effort in order to help us mentally manage the difficulties we are in by providing some “closure” to this crisis. The fact of the matter is that there likely won’t be closure. Recovery from this crisis will be a very incremental process. We will get to a point where we feel much more normal but it won’t be this week, this month, or maybe even this year.

The three-phase reopening plan presented by the Commonwealth doesn’t really seem to be three phases. Phase implies a step, an incremental movement. At the time of this post, we are in the Red Phase. In reality, the only two phases to reopening are the Yellow Phase and the Green Phase. Neither has much detail at all and the Commonwealth, throughout their announcements, refers to forthcoming guidance. This isn’t an indictment, just a recognition of the continued uncertainty we all face and a lack of knowledge about what to do or how to plan for the future.

So, what’s the point of this post? Well - Boards, CEOs, and leaders have a responsibility to be realistic about what their organizations are facing and how they will face it. Not to mention a responsibility to plan appropriately in order to preserve your organization’s mission.

Back to the phases. Erie is one of the regions that will enter into the Yellow Phase on May 8th. This is being touted as the beginning of our reopening. In reality, here are the facts:

  1. Many organizations have been conducting their work via telework. The Commonwealth’s direction is that organizations must continue to have their personnel telework where feasible. If there isn’t a compelling reason to reopen your building, the government is recommending you to keep it closed.
  2. In-person retail will be limited. Gyms, recreation centers, and various other kinds of establishments, will remain closed. Bars and restaurants will still be closed with only curbside or delivery available.
  3. If you feel compelled to reopen during the Yellow Phase, your organization will need to adhere to a number of building and worker safety measures, including:
  • Cleaning and disinfecting high touch areas
  • Developing a protocol for dealing with potential COVID-19 exposure of employees
  • Temperature screenings for all employees, every day
  • Staggering of employee start times and stop times
  • Maintaining a minimum of 6 feet of social distance between employees throughout the facility at all times
  • Providing ample access to soap, hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes for employees
  • Providing masks to all employees and requiring them to wear masks

And those are the requirements if you are just opening to staff. If you are opening to the public, there are additional requirements, including:

  • Appointment-only access for outside visitors and/or maintaining a 50% occupancy of the occupancy limit for the facility
  • Designated times for facility use by high-risk individuals and the elderly
  • Ensuring that there are staff to enforce the above rules

You can read these safety measures in their entirety here and here.

The bottom line is that the Yellow Phase really does not allow a whole lot. We will be restricted in many significant ways. This means:

  • Most organizations will likely continue to have their staff telework.
  • If you do open your facility, you will need to develop and maintain protocols and procedures to protect your employees, clients, volunteers, and visitors.
  • In-person gatherings such as special events (anything more than 25 people who cannot social distance 6 feet) cannot take place.

If you are opening, here are some questions that you need to consider:

  • Does the organization understand the compliance requirements that must be in place in order to reopen the facility?
  • Can the organization comply with the orders given by the Commonwealth?
  • Will the organization allow visitors to the facility and can the organization comply with that set of requirements?
  • Can the organization acquire enough personal protective equipment, such as masks, to comply with the Commonwealth’s orders?
  • Who in the organization is in charge of compliance?

On a more individualized basis, you might also need to consider questions around your employees’ special circumstances:

  • If we reopen, is everyone required to physically go back to work?
  • Can we give consideration to parents of school-aged children who may not have access to childcare because their children would ordinarily still be in school?
  • What do we do about employees that might be more vulnerable to Coronavirus, such as the elderly and those with certain health conditions?

And please don’t consider the above direction to be a full and complete exploration of all the things you need to consider. You can find more information about the Commonwealth’s direction here. In addition, you should seek out legal advice before you make any decisions.

Ultimately, you need to weigh the benefit of opening against the cost. There is no easy answer to any of these questions. They will require thoughtful planning and an honest and clearly communicated understanding of what is expected from everyone in the organization.

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