Watch Governor Tate Reeves Live Stream Discussion with Business Leaders Regarding COVID-19

The health & safety of our MEC members and the Mississippi business community is of paramount importance. As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the United States, it is important that Mississippi is prepared to handle the issue. This is a rapidly-changing situation that is continually being monitored by the CDC and the Mississippi State Department of Health as more cases in the U.S. are expected.

Below are resources we have pulled together to help educate employers on the coronavirus:

MEC member, Multicraft International of Pelahatchie has obtained 20,000 face masks from its suppliers in China, who had previously sent over 500 free ones for use by Multicraft employees. The new masks will be supplied to local hospitals.

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House Passes & President Signs
$2 Trillion Relief Package

 

President Donald Trump has signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides $2 trillion of relief funds. The U.S. House passed the legislation early Friday afternoon. This is the third phase of federal relief for businesses, states, and individuals that passed the U.S. Senate late Wednesday evening.

Among the provisions in the bill are:

  • $130 Billion for hospitals
  • $150 Billion for state & local governments
  • $500 Billion that can be used to back loans and assistance to companies
  • $350 Billion to aid small businesses
  • $600 per week add-on to state unemployment benefits
  • $1,200 for lower and middle-income adults and $500 per child
  • $24 Billion for agriculture stabilization
  • Ban on stock buybacks to any company receiving government loans through the term of the loan plus one additional year
  • Payroll tax deferral of a share of 2020 payroll tax
  • $30 Billion for education funding

The first phase of relief included $8.3 billion for boosting vaccine research and improving preparedness and prevention. It also provides seniors greater access to telehealth options. The second bill temporarily requires paid sick and family medical leave, increases unemployment benefits, increases access to coronavirus testing, and provides funds for a variety of other financial support for programs expected to see increased demand due to the coronavirus.

Click Here for a Summary of the Bill

For MEC Members:

MEC Member BKD hosted a web call on Tax Considerations Surrounding COVID-19 on Thursday, March 26 - Click Here to Listen to a Recording

MEC Member MyHRConcierge sponsored a web conference on Tuesday: COVID-19 Response: What Employers Need to Know - Emergency Paid Sick Leave, and Emergency Paid Leave - Click Here to Listen to the Web Call

Governor Reeves Issues Executive Order to Provide Consistency in Determining Essential Businesses

While Mississippi has not issued a statewide stay at home order, Gov. Tate Reeves has issued an executive order providing definitions of critical infrastructure and essential businesses. The defining essential businesses order provides guidance to local officials to ensure no essential services are closed.

Businesses listed as critical infrastructure and essential include:

  • Healthcare facilities
  • Grocery stores
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • Utilities and energy supply chains
  • Agricultural operations
  • Financial Services

The order does not require providing your employees, contractors, or vendors any documents to identify them as "essential."

The order states Mississippians must avoid non-essential gatherings of 10 people or more; suspends dine-in services at restaurants and bars across the state, instructing them to instead use drive-thru, take-out, or delivery services to get food; states Mississippians must not visit hospitals, nursing homes, or long-term care facilities; and directs businesses to allow every employee possible to work from home.

Mississippi Legislature Extends Session Beyond April 1

The 2020 Legislative session will remain suspended beyond April 1.

On March 18, the Mississippi Legislature put its work on hold due the impact of COVID-19. The hope was to return on April 1, but the suspension resolution gave the Lt. Governor and Speaker the authority to make a determination if the return date needed to be extended. No specific date is set for reconvening the Session, and legislative leadership is continuing to analyze the impact of COVID-19.

SBA Approves Mississippi Disaster Declaration

SBA Offers Disaster Assistance to Mississippi Small Businesses Economically Impacted by the Coronavirus

Governor Tate Reeves announced disaster assistance for Mississippi small businesses and their employees impacted by the current outbreak of COVID-19.

The U.S. Small Business Administration will offer low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to Mississippi small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), according to SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza. SBA acted under its own authority, as provided by the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act that was recently signed by the President, to declare a disaster following Governor Reeves’ request on March 18, 2020.

Applicants may apply online, receive additional disaster assistance information and download applications by Clicking Here. Applicants may also call SBA’s Customer Service Center at (800) 659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov for more information on SBA disaster assistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may call (800) 877-8339.

Completed applications should be mailed to U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Road, Fort Worth, TX 76155.

Information About Coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 is a new respiratory virus that causes flu-like illness ranging from mild to severe, with symptoms of fever, coughing, fatigue and difficulty breathing. The CDC and MSDH are working to detect, contain and limit the spread of cases in the U.S. and Mississippi should they occur. MSDH is actively preparing doctors and hospitals on how to respond safely and effectively to COVID-19 in Mississippi.

Like the flu, COVID-19 is thought to be spread person-to-person by close contact (within 6 feet) and by coughing or sneezing. Other possible routes of transmission, such as touching surfaces contaminated by the virus, are also being investigated.

COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Prevention and Preparedness For Individuals

The Mississippi State Department of Health and CDC Community Recommendations Through March 31, 2020:

  • Avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
  • Restrict visitation to long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes.
  • Discretionary travel and social visits should be avoided.
  • Avoid eating or drinking in restaurants, bars, and food courts. Use drive-through, pickup and delivery options.
  • If anyone in a household tests positive for the virus, everyone who lives there should stay home.

Even with these new guidelines in place, it is still essential that everyone continues to practice basic preventative measures:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Clean surfaces and objects that are touched regularly
  • Stay home if you do become sick

Prevention and Preparedness for Employers

It is important for employers to maintain open lines of communication with their employees. To that end, employers should update contact information for employees if necessary and stay informed of the latest news. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued “Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease.” The CDC recommends that employers begin implementing the following steps now:

  • Encourage employees with acute respiratory illnesses to stay home;
  • Separate sick employees;
  • Emphasize cough and sneeze etiquette and hand hygiene;
  • Perform routine environmental cleaning;
  • Advise employees about the risks prior to travel to countries that have had a significant outbreak; and
  • Consider informing employees in the case of possible exposure in the workplace.

Suggested Plans for Employers

The CDC also recommends that employers create response plans now that the outbreak has reached the United States.

Employers should create response plans that would:

  • Provide flexibility and input from employees
  • Reduce transmission among staff
  • Protect people at higher risk for adverse health complications
  • Maintain business operations
  • Minimize adverse effects on other entities in their supply chains
  • Share best practices

Can your business allow short-term telecommuting? Flexible hours? The cancellation of some or all business travel? Fewer in-person meetings? There is no single answer to these questions for every business.

Can employers require employees to undergo medical examinations?

As noted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its guidance, “Pandemic Preparedness in the Workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” employers may not require medical examinations under the ADA unless the medical exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity. Whether a medical exam is job-related and consistent with business necessity depends upon the facts presented (e.g., what are the employee’s symptoms, where has the employee been, etc.) and the latest CDC guidance on coronavirus.

What actions can employers take in the case of a pandemic?

In the case of a pandemic, employers can send employees home if they show coronavirus-like symptoms at work. Furthermore, employers may ask employees if they are experiencing coronavirus-like symptoms as long as they are mindful of confidentiality obligations. Finally, if an employee returns from traveling during a pandemic, an employer may ask the employee whether they are returning from a location where that individual may have been exposed to the virus.

Obviously, this is an evolving issue. The businesses that plan for it will be in a better position to deal with it if it becomes a crisis in the United States.

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