KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Several prominent and influential civic and business organizations have compiled guidance for the reopening of the economy.
The recommendations from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas City Area Development Council, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City and the Mid-America Regional Council aren’t meant to override any recommendations from local health and government leaders.
Rather, the four organizations sought to bring together a single resource — the Safe Return KC Guide, which serves as a best-practices guide — to help businesses with questions about how to protect employees' and customers’ health and safety when returning to work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a very different plan than is being put together by local public health organizations and local political leaders ...,” Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President for Civic and Community Initiatives Scott Hall said. “We don’t try to tell people when they can reopen.”
It’s envisioned less as hard-and-fast rules, but rather guideposts for businesses to use in crafting their own plan.
The Safe Return KC Guide purports to be “a roadmap for organizations of all types across the region to use as we re-open our workplaces, while considering the public health needs of our workforce, stakeholders, customers and community.”
However, the guide acknowledges that monitoring of new cases, increased testing capacity, continued contact tracing, the availability of adequate personal protective equipment and hospital capacity, including the availability of ICU beds, should remain central determining factors that guide reopening plans.
“The Kansas City economy is showing a real resiliency,” KC Area Development Council President and CEO Tim Cowden said.
He credited the diversity of the regional economy for helping prevent a massive economic collapse.
“Sure, there are sectors that have been hit, and hit hard,” but he predicts a strong recovery for the region upon reopening.
Mid-America Regional Council Executive Director David Warm also credited local businesses for helping mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak in the Kansas City area, where barely 0.1% of the population has been infected so far.
“We’ve gotten this far, because there’s been a high level of compliance from businesses,” Warm said.
While there is concern among some health-care experts about reopening too soon, which could create a second wave of infections and put additional stress on the region’s health-care system, “we know that communities need to get up and running,” KC Metro Healthcare Coalition Coordinator Steven Hoeger said.
The Safe Return KC guide offers additional recommendations above and beyond those from local health and political leaders:
- Stay informed about community public health policies and craft return-to-work policies with any guidance in mind;
- Actively seek employee and customer feedback to ensure a level of comfort with health and safety practices;
- Communicate regularly about revised practices and policies, both with employees and customers, and make a copy of the re-entry plan available for review;
- Have a plan for re-evaluating the effectiveness of policies and contingencies in place if local, state or federal guidelines change;
- Carefully consider the need for personal protective equipment in the workplace, including proper training for its use, and factor in its cost to the bottom line;
- Provide soap and/or hand sanitizer throughout work areas, in all restrooms, common areas, conference and meeting rooms, and near building entrances and exits;
- Ensure proper social-distancing, including the use of signage to provide visual cues, and avoid group gatherings;
- Encourage personal responsibility (i.e. do not come to work when ill or after known contact with someone else who is, regular hand-washing, sanitation of workspaces).
The group suggests individual virtual meetings with all staff, when feasible, “to understand their comfort re-entering your workplace and what questions or concerns may exist.”
It’s part of a three-phased approach, which relaxes social-distancing requirements as well as other health and safety measures as it progresses, but employers should always understand and comply with guidance from local, state and federal health officials.
Businesses also should be prepared for the possibility of contact tracing in the event an employee tests positive for COVID-19.
During the first phase, Minimal Reopening, businesses are encouraged to continue utilizing work-from-home options as much as possible and bring employees back into a physical workspace using a graduated approach.
Alternating schedules, staggering meal times and cross-training also can help limit employee contact and prepare for possible increased absenteeism.
The Safe Return KC guidelines also recommend any employee who tests positive for or exhibits symptoms of COVID-19 shouldn't return to work until being symptom-free for at least 72 hours without the use of medication.
Employees also should be encouraged to take their temperature daily and be sent home if they report feeling any symptoms associated with COVID-19. Spaces where they were working should be professionally cleaned.
Other phase-one recommendations include:
- A two-week self-quarantine for employees who share a home with or come in close contact with a positive COVID-19 patient, returning to work only after being cleared by a medical professional;
- Flexible sick-leave policies, which don’t require medical clearance for non-COVID-19-related illnesses;
- Requiring employees to wear face masks/face coverings when not at their personal workspace;
- Employees in shared or open workspaces also should wear masks or a face coverings;
- Mandatory disinfecting of workspaces at the beginning and end of each shift;
- Eliminating hand-passing or sharing of paper documents;
- Asking employees to keep a contact log and recording attendance at any in-person meetings for possible tracing, if needed;
- Training procedures for guests, vendors and delivery drivers, which included limited access of non-employees;
- Limit or eliminate non-essential business travel;
- Remove all community whiteboard pens and erasers and forbidding shared food and beverages from meeting rooms.
Many of the same recommendations — including a preference for allowing employees to work from home, when possible — remain for phase two, Reopening with Physical Distancing, but non-essential business can resume with the recommendation that isolation after travel be observed in accordance with CDC and local health department guidelines.
Phase three, Resume to Normal, restores normal employee work schedules and removes restrictions on shared workspaces, but Hall cautioned that the final phase — despite its title — shouldn’t be conflated with a return to the same practices and habits prior to COVID-19.
Employees who test positive for COVID-19 or who are sick should still stay home and workspaces should still be disinfected regularly, but non-employee access can return during this phase — though it’s still recommended that names are recorded for possible contact tracing.
Regular in-person meetings can resume, including the use of community whiteboard pens and erasers, but utilizing virtual meetings is encouraged with non-employees and a record of attendance should still be taken.
Common areas, though disinfected daily, can be used again without restrictions and business travel can resume without restrictions as well.
The group recommends listening to employees and, if they feel uncomfortable returning to work, allow them to keep working remotely when feasible, especially during the first two phases of it and especially for employees who acknowledge having underlying health conditions or living with someone who does.
While fear of returning to work is not a legal basis for an employee to refuse an employer’s directive to return to the workplace under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules, there are employees with underlying health conditions or who are caring for people who are more vulnerable and businesses should try to be sensitive to those employees’ concerns and provide reasonable accommodation.
When one-on-one virtual meetings aren’t possible, a questionnaire could help identify employees who need extra consideration before returning to a workplace. Businesses can’t legally ask for specifics of an employee’s vulnerability, but a questionnaire could help determine which employees are part of groups identified as vulnerable by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That list includes people with high blood pressure, lung disease, diabetes or other immune-compromising conditions as well as employees who live with people who have such conditions.
The Greater KC Chamber has launched a Business Help Desk to help guide businesses through the reopening process and answer questions about the Safe Return KC guide or how to proceed.
Business owners may call the Help Desk at 816-374-5440 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This isn’t a one-time thing that we’ve done,” KC Chamber President and CEO Joe Reardon said. “This will be an ongoing dialogue with our businesses.”
The complete 18-page guide is available below: