Some businesses in New York state may reopen as early as mid- to late May, and business leaders are putting together plans to try to operate safely and prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Under the phased-in reopening outlined by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, manufacturing and construction firms could reopen in some parts of the state soon after the current shutdown orders expire on May 15. Cuomo said industries will first have to submit plans to the state to demonstrate how they will keep their workers safe.
The governor admitted it will be challenging and involve “reimagining” the workplace.
“How do you do it and keep people 6 feet apart? How do you do it in the cafeteria?” Cuomo asked on May 4. “How do you run your business in a way that’s going to now meet these social distancing guidelines?”
Heather Briccetti, president of the Business Council of New York State, said its members are eager to restart. They include major upstate manufacturers and chambers of commerce representing smaller businesses in many cities.
“They're all feeling very ready to get back to work,” Briccetti said. “Most of them are in the process of trying to develop plans to get there.”
Briccetti said while individual companies do not have to submit plans to the state, they do have to follow the industry template for social distancing and personal protective gear, and they're required to keep their plans on file.
Companies can customize the plan to fit their particular setup, and while they can adopt more stringent rules, they cannot lessen any of the required safety features. Briccetti said it’s not entirely new territory for manufacturing firms that have long been required to adhere to federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration rules.
She said ideas include lengthening times between shifts, so there is time to clean and disinfect common spaces.
“It’s not unusual for businesses to have operating plans,” she said. “This is just a bigger version of that.”
Briccetti said businesses are seeking some changes from the state to help them function, including liability waivers. That would prevent them from being the target of lawsuits if they're required to ramp up operations to make emergency items, like masks and personal protective gear, and workers get sick.
She said if businesses come up with smart and safe operating plans in the next few weeks, they might be able to stay open and avoid another shutdown if there’s a second wave of the virus.
“If we do this smart, we may only have to go through this once,” Briccetti said. “That would be nice.”
Briccetti said for some of her members, though, including operators of casinos and other large entertainment venues, it will be very difficult to resume anything resembling normal operations until there’s a vaccine.