Apr 22, 2020


President Donald Trump and his administration’s task force to reopen America will consider lifting stay-at-home COVID-19 orders across the country. The administration’s proposed guidelines recommend that U.S. states and localities confirm a two-week downward trend in COVID-19 symptoms and cases before starting to ease lockdowns, and at the same time, assuring hospitals have adequate capacity and robust testing in place.  This week, we take a closer look at this re-starting lineup.



States and local governments will have to meet the downward-trending criteria each time they progress through three phases.  There are no target dates, and the task force could enforce restrictions if cases surge.  The White House’s working document outlines "core state preparedness responsibilities,” including having adequate testing and screening, the ability to supply enough protective equipment, and plans to surge intensive care beds.  In the first of three phases, restaurants, movie theaters, sporting venues, places of worship, and gyms can reopen if they observe strict social distancing.  Elective surgeries can resume when appropriate on an outpatient basis.  Schools currently closed should remain shut and visits to senior living facilities and hospitals should be prohibited. Bars should remain closed.



In phase two, schools and organized youth activities like camps can reopen. Nonessential travel can resume, and people can start circulating in parks, outdoor recreational areas, and shopping centers, while avoiding gatherings of more than 50 individuals unless unspecified precautionary measures are taken.  In phase three, employers can resume unrestricted staffing of workplaces. Large public venues can operate under limited social distancing rules. Visits to senior care facilities and hospitals can resume.



A team of 45 economists, social scientists, lawyers, and ethicists point to a necessary step to put Americans back to work: a dramatic increase in testing.  In its report titled "The Roadmap to Pandemic Resilience," a blue-ribbon panel of global thought leaders called COVID-19, "a profound threat to our democracy, comparable to the Great Depression and World War II.”  The report says that ending the quarantine safely will require testing, tracing, and supported isolation, a combination known by the acronym TTSI.  The report suggests that, "to fully re-mobilize the economy," the country will need to see testing grow to 20 million a day.



In related news, the White House is preparing to use the Defense Production Act (DPA) to fund private manufacturing firms to ramp up production of swabs needed for coronavirus testing.    Title III of the DPA enables the president to increase private industrial capacity in machine tooling, people, and facilities with the broader goal of increasing nasal swab production from 3 million to more than 20 million within 30 days of the contract award.  We’re eyes in the sky, keeping watch on these makers of rules for you.


Back Again: To Washington


A bi-partisan group of U.S. lawmakers expect to add nearly $500 billion more for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), up from an original ask of $250 billion.  The White House has also agreed to include additional funding to $75 billion for hospitals, $50 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, and $25 billion to expand coronavirus testing. In a separate move to potentially ease relief fund distribution, other members of Congress introduced the “Automatic Boost to Communities Act” (ABC Act), a measure that proposes Digital Dollar wallets, which should be available by the start of 2021. The Bill contemplates universal basic income (UBI) of $2,000 per month during the crisis and, after that $1,000 per month for a year, financed by the issue of two trillion in dollar “coins.” Initially, these include direct bank account payments or alternatively a BOOST prepaid debit card. Then come January, the money could be added to a Digital Dollar wallet.  We’ll see if the pandemic is a tipping point for digital currency.



Speaking of necessity begetting innovation, the COVID-19 pandemic forced a change at the Supreme Court that justices have long resisted: live audio of the court’s oral arguments.  The court will hold oral arguments via teleconference for the first time in its history this May.  The docket includes cases postponed in March and April, the first time the Supreme Court postponed oral arguments since 1918.  The hearings will be released through a network pool, and thus immediately available on media platforms.


Making Our Way Around the Country


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidance to employers on interim enforcement plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.  OSHA will process complaints from non-healthcare and non-emergency locations through “non-formal phone/fax” methods, which could result in an inspection after the employer responds. As for mandatory reporting rules, if a COVID-19 fatality occurs within 30 days of an exposure on an employer's premises, OSHA will require a covered entity to report it to an OSHA Area Office or the OSHA national telephone line within 8 hours of the fatality, or when the employer acquired knowledge of it.  Also, the guidance requires employers to report COVID-19 hospitalizations within 24 hours of acquiring that knowledge.



The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) intends to alter the way businesses that have suspended operations due to COVID-19 (but continue to pay employees at home) report payroll.  Under NCCI recommendations, such businesses will exclude the payroll paid to these “at-home” employees in the calculation of their workers’ compensation premium.  NCCI will file the change in the 36 states where it is the official rating bureau. California’s rating bureau has already announced its own rule that this payroll paid during the shutdown will be excluded from reportable payroll.  The governing committee of the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau of California (WCIRB) voted unanimously in favor of a special regulatory filing that includes excluding COVID-19 claims from the experience rating and excluding payments to employees who continue to be paid while not working.



Lawmakers in Albany introduced legislation to fast-track Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D-NY) vision for a COVID-19 Heroes Compensation Fund.  The bill’s sponsor likened the measure to the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund.  Proceeds from the fund, which would require federal funding, would compensate frontline workers and their families who are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.   The legislation would provide death benefits to families who have lost a frontline worker, and provide essential workers who experience permanent impairments with workers' compensation or disability benefits.



Even as we adhere to shelter-in-place orders and maintain safety through social distancing, we recognize today’s 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  To help commemorate the day, NASA launched its #EarthDayAtHome campaign.  The initiative will feature a variety of educational resources compiled into a 50th anniversary toolkit, designed to advance a conservation message across the globe.  Until next week, stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.


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