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Small Business: Expert says worst of pandemic not necessarily over

Soap maker Angela Carillo of Alegna Soap on

Soap maker Angela Carillo of Alegna Soap on Aug. 19 on Facebook Live. Credit: Alegna Soap

Coronavirus took many businesses by surprise when the shutdown occurred in March.

They had little time to prepare, but rather had to transition quickly to the new normal.

While New York’s been successful in curbing the spread of new infections, businesses shouldn’t rest easy that the worst is over because, unlike past pandemics, this one isn’t characterized by waves that come and go, but rather a constant burn, says a top infectious disease expert.

“It’s not a wave because it’s still there,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota and co-author of the book "Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs." “It never went away.”

Some areas like New York State were able to do a good job of suppressing it, but it’s never truly been eradicated, he says.

“Think of this more now as one huge coronavirus forest fire,” he said. “Wherever there’s human wood to burn, it will burn.”         

He said even if New York went down to zero infection cases, it would still be vulnerable to someone bringing it back into the state.

With that said, “you can’t let your guard down,” he says, noting New York is vulnerable to a resurgence until most are either protected with vaccination or recover from COVID-19 and areas develop a herd immunity.

So businesses shouldn’t abandon their efforts in maintaining and preparing for another flare up, Osterholm says.

Angela Carillo, owner of Bethpage-based Alegna Soap, a handmade soap maker, says she is still proceeding with caution.

When the shutdown occurred, she had to refocus her efforts online considering the majority of her sales pre-pandemic were from in-person fairs, festivals and other events.

She updated her website and also started selling home soap making kits for kids on her website. She had extras from in-person soap making classes she did with schools and birthday parties.

“It was very well-received,” says Carillo, who promoted it through a Facebook group.

To promote her brand, she started doing soap making on Facebook Live daily at 4 p.m. She continues to do that and says it has helped with online sales.

In case of another flare-up, she has reordered extra pump and spray bottles used for her lotions and fragrance sprays because they were in tight supply during the height of the pandemic.

That’s a good idea to stock up on supplies in case of another shortage, says Joseph Tomaino, chief executive of Grassi Healthcare Advisors in Jericho, a health care advisory and consulting firm.

Also consider not abandoning a semi-permanent remote work environment in case you need to transition to remote work again, he says.

Continue the “cleanliness vigilance” in the workplace, he adds, noting, “those same measures will prevent seasonal flu and a lot of respiratory infections.”

Beyond that, Tomaino advises businesses to shore up cash reserves if possible (i.e. perhaps pursue a line of credit, etc.) and do longer-term cash flow projections (9 to 12 months out) with best and worst-case scenarios.

On a human resources level, take stock of your workforce and identify the skill sets and functions of each job and think about both short-term and long-term solutions, says Rick Maher, chief executive of Turning Point HCM, a Coram-based HR outsourcing firm.

“You don’t know which one of your employees may have to be quarantined or step away because their children’s school is closing,” he says.

Consider if you need to outsource help from a temp agency or you might consider cross-training employees for other key roles within the organization, he says.

Make sure your job ads are current and also assess your recruiting efforts so you can react quickly to filling openings, says Maher.

These kind of practices are good whether there is a pandemic resurgence or not, says Joseph Saracino, president of CINO Ltd., an insurance and risk management firm in Coram.

He recommends businesses assess all aspect of key operations from personnel to insurance needs.

While he didn’t see any of his own clients' insurance plans specifically covering the pandemic, businesses should assess their insurance coverage anyway.

Businesses may want to consider add-ons like employment practices liability coverage, which provides coverage to employers against employment-related issues like discrimination and wrongful termination, which can surface as staffing cuts have grown since the pandemic, says Saracino.

Also they should do a risk assessment to look for weaknesses such as security/privacy, he says.

“Preparation is everything,” he says. “We don’t know what’s on the horizon.”

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Fast Fact:

Concerns about another COVID-19 flare up remain. According to a July MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey, two-thirds of small businesses are concerned about having to close again or stay closed if there’s a COVID-19 resurgence.

Source: https://www.uschamber.com/report/july-2020-small-business-coronavirus-impact-poll

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