As COVID-19 cases have spiked across the country, many businesses have adjusted certain operations with an eye on customer and employee safety, as well as to ensure compliance with recent changes to government orders. Some businesses have faced challenges that they have not seen since last spring. Over the summer, we explained some ways companies could prepare for a potential winter resurgence of the virus. Today we consider how companies may wish to proceed as average daily death totals in the U.S. remain high.

Businesses across the country are facing challenges, including lawsuits, as they grapple with how COVID-19 has impacted their operations, work forces, and supply chains. The wave of litigation is rising, and it appears that no industry is immune. Schiff Hardin’s Coronavirus Task Force is publishing this series to identify of-the-moment issues and potential liabilities facing businesses as they begin to re-open, transform their processes, and face the new reality.
  • Keep an eye on developments, including new orders issued by state and local governments closely. Many state and local governments have issued new and revised orders recently. As we wrote last year, ensuring compliance to protect customers and employees and to avoid adverse government action in a shifting landscape presents a host of challenges. Many governments have recently reinstituted certain restrictions or pushed localities back to earlier phases. Some new orders resemble earlier orders while others are different. For example, in early December, California instituted a new Regional Stay at Home Order that activated certain provisions in various parts of the state when adult ICU bed availability in the area fell below 15 percent. This differed from earlier orders that applied to all parts of the state or were not tied to these same metrics. Businesses may wish to consult counsel to better understand the new orders, and businesses that operate in many locations may also want to consider company-wide policies to streamline.
  • Consider whether to provide personal protective equipment to customers and employees. Products like masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant are now more widely available than they once were, and many people are now accustomed to bringing these products with them. But as government orders change, businesses may wish to supply these products to customers and employees to ensure compliance with changing government orders.
  • Consider a transition back to work-from-home in some industries. Some companies that instituted work-from-home policies in the spring were able to bring some office workers back for varying degrees of in-person work this summer. Certain companies may want to reconsider their in-person policies. Companies may wish to transition to universal work from home, reduce staffing for only essential tasks, or discourage office workers from in-person work when they also can work from home. A multi-faceted approach — considering government orders, the potential risk for infection in their particular workplace, and the number of customers or clients who may visit the premises as part of regular operations – may serve these companies well.
  • Reinstitute travel restrictions for employees and guidelines concerning when customers may enter a business based on recent travel. Businesses may once again want to consider restricting work-related travel or to institute policies concerning when employees or customers may enter physical locations based on recent personal travel. Companies may once again ask customers or employees to complete questionnaires concerning recent travel, particularly travel to or from regions with high infection rates, and consider policies regarding access to locations for individuals who have traveled to such areas within a certain period of time or had other recent potential exposures.
  • Implement or reinstitute health checks in businesses that require more personal contact. Companies may want to implement or reinstate health checks like pre-entry surveys regarding common symptoms of COVID-19 or recent exposure to infected people, especially if they are in particularly high-contact industries.
  • Examine current policies given indications that new coronavirus variants may be more contagious. Early research indicates that the new coronavirus variant spreading in England may be up to 56 percent more contagious than the novel coronavirus that first appeared in this country last year. And it appears to be spreading in the United States. The new variant may lead companies to consider changes in current policies regarding masking, social distancing, and cleaning procedures.

As many experts predicted, COVID-19 infections have soared over the winter. This has continued to pose challenges for businesses in determining the best course of action depending on the nature of their work and local requirements. The environment is dynamic. Stay tuned for our post next week concerning operational considerations in light of the vaccine rollout.