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The Network Effect
The Chamber has a virtual portal for employers to submit questions relating to COVID-19 and its impact on business. Submit questions by visiting Slido.com and entering the event code #ASK4BIZ (or simply click here to go directly to the page). Questions can also be submitted via email at ask@madisonbiz.com. Responses are posted at madisonbiz.com/covid19faq.

Good evening --

Here are the latest updates on the COVID-19 outbreak and our organizational efforts to inform and ensure an effective community response.

Today's highlights include the latest in the Chamber's state-level advocacy, relief for operators of shuttered venues and a recap of our most recent Virtual Industry Meeting.

STATE LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY

The Chamber has registered its opposition to Senate Joint Resolution 3, which passed the state Senate last week and would put an end to Gov. Tony Evers' statewide face covering requirement.

If passed by the state Assembly (the Governor's signature is not required for a joint resolution), Dane County's mask requirement would still be in effect, but the resolution would lift the requirement where local orders are not currently in place. The Chamber opposes SJR3 because face coverings are a scientifically proven mitigation strategy that protects public health and, importantly, builds public confidence that businesses can be frequented safely.

The Chamber has also stated its opposition to prohibiting businesses from being able to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. The Assembly voted for the prohibition last week after the Senate had removed that provision from a broader COVID package. It would be unwise and short-sighted for government to issue a broad mandate to limit employers' ability to adapt to their unique circumstances and provide safe workspaces during this emergency.

We will continue to monitor both SJR3 and AB1 closely and share further updates as they become available.

PHASE 1B VACCINATION GROUPS

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) has announced the groups included in Phase 1B distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and on track to be eligible for vaccination beginning March 1:
 
-- Education and childcare;
 
-- Public-facing essential workers including public transit, grocery stores and food and agriculture;
 
-- Non-frontline health care personnel; and
 
-- People living and working in a congregate living facility.
 
Missing from this list are additional private-sector employees recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be part of Phase 1B, including workers in manufacturing. Populations currently eligible for vaccination include frontline healthcare workers, residents of long-term care facilities, police and fire personnel, and individuals age 65 and older.
 
For more on vaccine eligibility and availability, click here.

OSHA GUIDANCE ON PREVENTING WORKPLACE SPREAD

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released guidance to employers on mitigating and preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. Separate guidance is applicable to healthcare and emergency response settings, and OSHA has additional industry-specific guidance.

This guidance contains recommendations, as well as descriptions of mandatory safety and health standards. Included are recommendations for implementation of workplace prevention programs in the workplace, as well as details relating to:

-- Separating and sending home infected or potentially infected people;

-- Implementing physical distancing;

-- Installing barriers

-- Use of PPE; and

-- Improving ventilation.

OSHA will update this guidance over time to reflect developments in science, best practices and standards. View the full guidance here.

SHUTTERED VENUE OPERATORS GRANT

As part of the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act signed into law on Dec. 27, operators of live venues, live performing arts organizations, movie theaters and others may soon receive relief through the $15 billion Shuttered Venue Operators (SVO) Grant program.

Eligible applicants may qualify for SVO Grants equal to 45 percent of their gross earned revenue, with $10 million as the maximum amount available for a single grant award. Two billion dollars is reserved for eligible applications with up to 50 full-time employees.

Funds may be used to cover expenses including payroll and administrative costs, rent and utility payments, and state and local taxes and fees. To be eligible, applicants must have been in operation as of Feb. 29, 2020 and not have received a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan on or after Dec. 27, 2020.

The Small Business Administration is not yet accepting applications for the SVO grant, though they recommend that potential applicants start gathering documentation showing their employee count and monthly revenue in order to calculate the average number of qualifying employees they have had over the prior 12 months. The FAQs provide guidance on how to determine employee count on page 6.

Specifically, entities are encouraged to obtain a Dun & Bradstreet (DUNS) number so they can then register in the System for Award Management (SAM.gov). Other identifiers, such as an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or Employer Identification Number, cannot be used. Entities that have or receive a DUNS number should immediately begin registering in SAM.gov as the SAM registration may take up to two weeks after submission.

For additional SVO program details, click here.

For a brief webinar about the program, visit here.

VIRTUAL INDUSTRY MEETING RECAP

Last week, the Chamber hosted the latest in our Virtual Industry Meeting (VIM) series, as developers and commercial property owners assessed their current needs and shared projections for the three phases of responding to the COVID-19 outbreak: relief, reopening and recovery.

Most participants expressed that retail tenants and smaller tenants have been hardest hit and have been looking to landlords for help. Many in the meeting offered some combination of deferrals or abatements to these tenants, with some offering abatement for a portion of the rent or offering abatement and extending their leases, though there has been strength with industrial tenants.

Regarding the future of work and the fear that many companies would go fully remote and forego office space altogether, some are seeing businesses actually looking to grow and expand into new space, some due to overall growth as a company and others wanting more space for physical distancing long-term. At the same time, some companies are using more office space as general event and meeting areas for employees who will primarily work remotely.
 
Several attendees noted that the PPP program was helpful for some of their tenants, although there was a feeling that there were not enough government programs for the smaller businesses and those in the hardest-hit industries. Many remarked that businesses – including theirs – have been left feeling isolated, with little guidance or leadership from all levels of government, particularly at the local level. However, some participants said the state and county small business grant programs have been helpful. 

The Chamber has also convened lenders, manufacturers, hoteliers, retailers, business membership organizations and leaders in the non-profit sector, banking and finance, healthcare, health and wellness, legal and accounting services, education, child care, construction, design, insurance, technology, biotech, healthtech, arts, culture, entertainment and sports as part of our Virtual Industry Meeting series to help inform our advocacy. Please continue to share with us any policy ideas and recommendations.

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For a full archive of previously shared resources, visit madisonbiz.com/covid19.

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