Skyhobo/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Environmental Protection Agency will put companies and specific facilities in charge of monitoring their own compliance with environmental laws during the novel coronavirus emergency, according to officials.
This move has led critics to accuse the agency of backing off its role to prevent uncontrolled pollution or other violations.
EPA argued the change was needed because of staffing shortages that facilities, like power plants, said has made it more difficult to keep up with deadlines and accountability requirements.
The agency will still enforce criminal violations as well as follow usual enforcement procedures for some programs like managing Superfund sites, according to guidance on how EPA will use its enforcement discretion.
"We were hearing from a number of facilities around the country where they simply don't have the necessary personnel in their facilities to make those reports in a timely basis," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters Thursday afternoon.
Wheeler said they will also still enforce instances that could present an imminent public health risk and that the flexibility is more geared toward administrative requirements. Companies will be required to track their own violations, if they occur, and document how the violation was related to COVID-19, through staffing shortages or other issues.
Environmental groups accused the agency of giving polluters a free pass because of the pandemic, saying that without federal oversight companies could skimp on recording information on releases of air or water pollution.
"This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future," Cynthia Giles, former assistant EPA administrator for enforcement and compliance, said in a statement. "It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way "caused" by the virus pandemic."
She added, "And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was."
But Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, said facilities will still face enforcement and possible penalties for environmental violations during the emergency. She noted that the policy will put the burden on facilities to notify EPA and state agencies of any violations.
"If you do have violations of your permit, you're still obligated to meet your permit limits you're supposed to do everything possible, Bodine said. "And after the fact the agency will take that all into consideration but there isn't a promise of no penalties in those kinds of situations."
"If you have an acute risk, if you have an imminent threat ... the facility has to come in and talk to their regulator, their authorized state or come into the agency," she continued. "And the reason for that is that we want to, we want to put all of our resources into keeping these facilities safe keeping communities safe."
Bodine said if entities are struggling, "they have to come in and talk to us."
In response to the outbreak, EPA has stepped up its work to approve disinfectant products that can kill the virus and worked to prevent unapproved products from being brought into the country.
Wheeler said EPA is also working with manufacturers to maintain the supply chain of ingredients to keep up with demand for disinfectants.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Sushiman/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The coronavirus pandemic has quickly evolved from a health crisis to a financial one, shuttering businesses, upending entire industries and sending financial markets reeling.
Here's the latest news on how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the economy:
IMF chief predicts a 'quite deep' recession for 2020
Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in a briefing Friday that the organization representing more than 189 countries is now projecting a recession for 2020.
Moreover, "we are expecting it to be quite deep," she said.
"We are very much urging countries to speed up containment measures aggressively so we can shorten the duration of this period of time when the recession is in standstill," she said. "And also to apply well-targeted measures, primary focusing on the health system to absorb that enormous stress that comes from coronavirus and on people, businesses, and the financial system."
She applauded countries' fiscal and monetary policy responses so far for both their speed and breadth.
LIVE NOW: Press Briefing by @KGeorgieva following a Conference Call of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC). https://t.co/ncqFN2epER?— IMF (@IMFNews) March 27, 2020
In a statement shortly after Friday's briefing, Georgieva and the IMF's Financial Committee Chair Lesetja Kganyago called for increased multilateral action among central banks and other financial institutions.
"We are in an unprecedented situation where a global health pandemic has turned into an economic and financial crisis. With a sudden stop in economic activity, global output will contract in 2020. Member countries have already taken extraordinary actions to save lives and safeguard economic activity. But more is needed," they said in a joint statement.
It continued: "Priority should be afforded to targeted fiscal support to vulnerable households and businesses to accelerate and strengthen the recovery in 2021."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledges $25 million for coronavirus treatment funding
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Friday that he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, will give $25 million to accelerate the development of coronavirus treatments, saying he hopes to get a vaccine to test developed in "months rather than a year or more."
"We're partnering with the Gates Foundation and others to quickly evaluate the most promising existing drugs to see which ones might be effective at preventing and treating the coronavirus," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post Friday morning. "Since these drugs have already gone through clinical safety trials, if they're effective, it will be much faster to make them available than it will be to develop and test a new vaccine -- hopefully months rather than a year or more."
After three-day rally, markets slip Friday
After three days of back-to-back gains, U.S. financial markets slipped Friday as the coronavirus pandemic wages on.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 700 points, or over 3%, when U.S. markets opened Friday. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also both dropped approximately 3% Friday morning.
The United States now has nearly 86,000 cases of COVID-19, the highest number in the world. At least 1,300 people have died in the U.S.
Moreover, in New York City -- the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic -- Mayor Bill de Blasio projected Friday morning that "over half the people in this city will ultimately be infected."
Equity markets have seesawed for weeks as the COVID-19 outbreak has sowed uncertainty among investors.
A $2 trillion stimulus package to help lessen the blow of the outbreak on the economy was approved by the Senate earlier this week, leading to the three-day market rally ahead of Friday's tumble.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
HRAUN/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 24,000 people around the world.
With more than 85,000 diagnosed cases, the United States has the highest national total in the world.
Medical personnel around the world have been working hard to help those impacted by COVID-19. They are the front line of defense when it comes to fighting this pandemic.
From shoes to coffee, companies have started giving back to support medical workers during this tough time.
Boston-based shoe company OOFOS is starting a program to help those who are helping others during this time of need.
In the first phase, the company is donating more than 1,000 pairs of shoes to nurses and medical professionals all around the country.
Their shoes are sanitary and have antimicrobial properties so they can be washed between shifts.
"While our company is Boston-based, we have field members all over the U.S. who work intimately with their communities, and who personally know nurses fighting this pandemic bravely on the front lines," Darren Brown, head of marketing at OOFOS, told ABC News' Good Morning America.
"Because of this, we wanted to donate shoes not only to medical professionals in our backyard of Boston with Massachusetts General Hospital, but also wanted to open this opportunity up to our field team, allowing them to reach out to their communities and show nurses that they are seen, supported and thanked for all they are doing," he said.
Allbirds has distributed $500,000 in shoes to health care workers and medical personnel working in the United States.
The company is also starting a "buy-one-give-one" option for people shopping for the products to split the cost of donating a pair of Wool Runners to those in need.
"Health care workers have been our nation’s heroes through this pandemic; we are humbled by their service and simply trying to do what we can to provide comfort to them during this time," a spokesperson told GMA.
Family-owner footwear brand KEEN launched the "Together We Can Help" initiative to have people nominate those they felt were most in need of a new pair of shoes.
In less than a week, they gave away 100,000 pairs of shoes to people in need.
"People like nurses working overtime shifts, grocery store clerks re-stocking shelves, and families trying to keep up with their kids now that schools are shut down, all got a boost thanks to a new pair of KEEN shoes," the brand said in a statement.
Crocs is donating a free pair of shoes to health care workers fighting COVID-19 through its new program, “A Free Pair for Healthcare."
Starting at 12 p.m. ET every day, these workers can request a pair of shoes until supplies last.
Crocs is also distributing an additional 100,000 pairs of shoes to select health care facilities across the country.
"These workers have our deepest respect, and we are humbled to be able to answer their call and provide whatever we can to help during this unprecedented time," Crocs CEO Andrew Rees said in a statement.
Premium scrubs brand FIGS announced it would be donating 30,000 sets of scrubs to hospitals over the next two months.
Luxury bridalwear company Pronovias is donating wedding dresses to hospital-employed future brides working on the front lines of this crisis.
Until Aug. 21, brides-to-be who are employed by a hospital and helping with this crisis are eligible for a free wedding dress.
"Using the slogan #LoveConquersAll, Pronovias Group wants to share a message of love and selflessness in these times of uncertainty and distress, hoping that, before long, brides will again be able to celebrate their love," the company said in a statement.
Australian skincare brand LANO is donating 1,000 bars of their popular soap to hospital staff.
“We have been hearing that hospital staff have been going above and beyond in these trying times and were in need of skincare as the masks have been causing skin damage – acne, bruising - due to wearing them for a long period of time. We are donating 1,000 Lanolin & Egg-White Cleansing Bars as a token of our appreciation,” Kirsten Carriol, CEO and founder of Lanolips, told GMA.
The clean beauty brand Bliss is donating thousands of its self-care products to hospitals across the United States.
People can nominate their #healthcareheroes on Instagram to receive a special care package. The brand will pick five winners every Thursday.
The health and beauty brand FEKKAI is sending 4,000 dry shampoos and over 250 hand creams to hospitals all over the country.
“We have tremendous admiration for all of the healthcare workers fighting in this unprecedented time. When we heard that they needed products to help them through their long days, we were eager to help,” FEKKAI founder Frederic Fekkai told GMA.
Massaging device company Theragun is helping hospital personnel alleviate tension by donating their devices to hospitals across the country.
So far, the brand has delivered devices to hospital break rooms in over 30 states.
"We are donating Theraguns to hospitals all across the US to help provide relief for the medical staff and their bodies. These people’s bodies are taking a beating through their service to others. If Theragun can provide them with just a few minutes of relief, then the donation is worth it," Dr. Jason Wersland, founder of Theragun, said.
The company is also donating 100 meals for every device sold through Feeding America.
Until May 3, Starbucks will be giving a free tall brewed coffee to anyone one identifies as a first responder or front line worker supporting our healthcare system.
This includes police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, hospital and medical staff and medical researchers.
The company is also donating money to support the delivery of 50,000 care packages to healthcare workers.
Tropical Smoothie Cafe
Tropical Smoothie Cafe is on a mission to give away 100,000 smoothies to hospital workers across the country.
"In these trying times, it can be comforting to know that we’re #InItTogether, and hope that this campaign inspires others to give back in any way they can and remember that even the smallest acts of kindness can have a significant impact," Charles Watson, CEO of Tropical Smoothie Cafe, told GMA.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
flukyfluky/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Working in construction during the coronavirus pandemic has split the industry down the middle, according to advocates and health experts.
On one hand, buildings, roads and utilities need regular maintenance and upgrades, and millions of blue-collar workers need those jobs to support families, construction union leaders said. At the same time, those close-knit worksites and, sometimes, unsanitary work conditions are ripe for exposure to the virus, according to Jeanne Stellman, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who specializes in workers safety issues.
"The question is, 'What jobs can be done safely?'" she told ABC News. "This is a time when those generally poor standards [at construction sites] need to be addressed."
Stellman and other advocates called on the government to come up with immediate solutions to address both issues before they create a deeper economic and public health problem on the nation.
More than 7.6 million Americans worked in a construction job in February, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many states, including New York, the hardest hit by the pandemic, construction projects have continued after being deemed essential services.
Ken Rigmaiden, the general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which has over 111,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, estimated that half of the construction sites in the country have shut down since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Rigmaiden noted one of his members, Tureka Dixon, a single mother from Philadelphia with a child on the autism spectrum, lost her construction job recently and is desperate to get back to work.
"People need to be aware of that in this industry, if they don’t work and don’t get paid, they are hurt," Rigmaiden told ABC News.
The union leader added that governments should be using the construction workforce to their advantage as the need for new hospital spaces and coronavirus testing centers soar. Rigmaiden acknowledged that some workers would prefer to stay at home to avoid contracting the disease, for which there should be assistance.
The Laborers' International Union of North America, which has half a million members in North America, sent a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday urging them to come up with relief plans for construction workers. Some of the recommendations the union put forward include family and medical leave for their members, and a new emergency safety standard for work during the outbreak.
"I want to stress the importance of making sure that federal action to address COVID-19 should benefit the workers and families who are bearing the brunt of this crisis," LIUNA general president Terry O’Sullivan wrote.
Stellman said the calls for financial assistance are important for those workers, and at the same time, the government should stress better safety standards. In addition to the number of risks construction workers face while doing their tasks, Stellman said the sanitary hazards are far more concerning.
Things like a lack of clean toilets and sinks to tight lifts and a lack of personal protective equipment raise the chances that the workers will contract COVID-19, she said. Stellman warned that the country should learn the lessons from the excavation and extraction work that took place at Ground Zero after 9/11 when workers were not protected from the poisonous atmosphere.
"We operated there 24/7 without any precautions and we are still paying the price for the brave guys who did all for us," she said.
Carlo Scissura, the president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, a trade group that represents developers and construction companies, said several major companies have instituted stricter health safety policies in the last few weeks. Several companies, he said, are taking the temperatures of their workers when they arrive on site and are asking any employee who feels sick to stay at home.
"A lot of these sites are union sites and unions have clear guidelines for their employees," Scissura told ABC News. "We’re monitoring to see if there are site-specific cases where there are people who aren’t given the opportunity to go home if they’re sick."
Stellman said she hopes the situation will spur elected officials and industry leaders to take a good look at the health safety standards in construction sites concerning pandemics and institute stronger safeguards.
"Construction workers have always stepped up to their responsibilities to provide us with the structures that we need for our lives," she said. "They have shown to do it at great risk and we as a society have to ask that the risk they take is absolutely minimal."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Jokic/iStock(NEW YORK) -- As the novel coronavirus makes its insidious way around the world, many businesses have mandated that employees whose work does not require their physical presence to work from home -- a real-time stress test of America's internet infrastructure.
Experts are seeing traffic surges in both home broadband Internet and, in some instances, cellular traffic -- specifically, an increase in video conferencing on phones.
Network operators have confirmed the surge. As of this week, AT&T reported, "Wireless voice minutes of use was up 39% compared to an average Monday. Wi-Fi Calling minutes of use was 78% higher than an average Monday. Consumer home voice calling minutes of use were up 45% from an average Monday." The company said its core network traffic, including "business, home broadband and wireless usage," was up 27% on Monday compared with the same day last month.
And in a posting on its website, Verizon said that the company's "wireless and broadband networks handled more than 218,000 terabytes of data this past Monday alone." The company also saw a surge in Virtual Private Network traffic. VPNs allow people to create a secure connection over a public network, such as like the internet, to reach a private network. VPN traffic was up 52% over a typical day on Verizon's network.
Internet broadband and cellular networks have limitations. How sustainable are these networks, especially when no one knows how long coronavirus lockdowns will continue?
Doug Suttles, CEO and co-founder of Ookla, creator of the popular internet speed benchmark application, Speedtest.net said that Internet broadband, mostly, is in good shape.
"There is the core of the internet, which I think is fine," Suttles told ABC News. But his company's data shows problems are popping up in residential communities because "the internet built around them is not built for this usage."
"Everyone's working from home, there's lots of video consumption, video conferencing," he added. "We've seen, in select areas, a much larger degradation in performance, specifically in residential areas -- dense, residential communities. The commuters are all at home."
ISPs prepare for peak consumption in evening, when everyone's typically home, not such an all-day "overdrive," he said.
What's causing that increase in demand? Suttles said it's video conferencing, which "has a much greater impact on upload [speed]," he said.
Paul Carter, CEO of Global Wireless Solutions, said his company has also been keeping track of usage patterns, in particular cellular networks. He likened the current demand for connectivity to Super Bowl Sunday.
"When it's time for the Super Bowl, operators spend millions of dollars [to meet demand]. Now, it's like the whole country is kind of like the Super Bowl," Carter said to ABC News.
He said COVID-19 has placed unique demands on carriers.
"Now, all of a sudden, everything has been turned on its head. There is a lot less mobility, people are sheltering at home, often in suburban areas. People are spending more time on their devices," he continued. "There's a blur between personal and work use. Currently, people are starting their day maybe earlier, so that the workday is longer. You are at home for the whole time, so you are doing more activities on your phone."
Carter said network operators are seeing a spike in voice communications, particularly with Wi-Fi calling, in some cases a "75 to 100% increase."
"You are using your home broadband to make the initial connection, and then it's forwarded by your cellular service provider," Carter added.
But he said he's optimistic carriers can meet the demand.
"They have been preparing for 5G, not just on the front end but on the back end, the core network," he said. "So they have been building capacity into the network. Wireless network operators are working hard to fill [performance] holes, but it's a testament to them that the networks are holding up so well already."
In the case of dense residential areas that may not get the same performance as larger, urban areas, Suttles suggested operators may resort to throttling bandwidth, as was done recently in the EU.
Zoom, a video conferencing platform, has seen such an increase in demand that its stock rose earlier this month, despite Wall Street's rollercoaster performance.
“We are confident that our architecture is built to handle these growing levels of activity. Our unified communications platform is architected from the ground up to address the most technologically difficult aspect of communications: video,” Zoom said in a statement to ABC News.
In the meantime, non-commuters can take steps to bolster their bandwidth while working from home. Suttles suggested using a combination of cellular and home broadband, especially since cellular networks are seeing less of a surge in demand.
"Tether your laptop, or one of your devices to [cellular], then [other devices to broadband] to spread the load," he advised. "Perhaps if Zoom works great over [cellular], use that one computer connected to your phone for that Zoom call. Figure out which of your connections are best."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
JLGutierrez/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis are gripping the nation: One in three Americans in an ABC News/Washington Post poll say they or an immediate family member have been laid off or lost their job as a result of the pandemic, and more – half – report a cut in pay or work hours.
Beyond those stark realities, worries for the future are profound. A nearly unanimous 92% expect a recession because of the outbreak, with 59% calling this not just likely, but very likely. If one occurs, two-thirds think it will be as bad as the Great Recession, or worse. Already, in interviews Sunday through Wednesday, 43% say the economic impacts on their own community are severe.
The survey’s result on job losses is reflected in the unprecedented level of new unemployment claims reported today by the federal government. But the claims data don’t reflect the broader public fears. Among those who haven’t yet experienced a job loss in their immediate family, 58% are concerned about it occurring. And 53% are concerned their family will be hit with pay cuts or reduced work hours.
The net totals mean that 71% of Americans either have had a layoff or job loss occur as a result of the pandemic, or are concerned about this; and 76% either have lost pay or work hours, or are concerned that this may happen.
Further, the survey finds higher levels of job losses and pay cuts among the most economically at-risk Americans: those with lower incomes, racial and ethnic minorities and, specifically in terms of job losses, women who lack a four-year college degree.
On another front, the public expresses broad support for some elements of the economic stimulus package approved unanimously by the Senate last night. Eighty-six percent back cash payments to most Americans and 90% support billions in aid to small businesses, with bipartisan views on both. Assistance for large corporations is far less popular, with support dropping to 46%.
Most interviews for this national survey were conducted Sunday and Monday in order to avoid potential call center shutdowns; the results are a portrait in time in the fast-moving crisis. While this report focuses on economic impacts, further results tomorrow morning will look at personal impacts and other issues related to the pandemic. The survey was produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.
As noted, economic impacts differ among groups. While 33% of Americans overall say they or someone in their immediate family has been laid off or lost a job as a result of the crisis, it’s four in 10 among ethnic and racial minorities (including 41% of Hispanics and 39% among blacks) vs. 29% among whites.
Similarly, among those with household incomes less than $50,000, 39% report a layoff or job loss, compared with 30% of those in the $50,000-$100,000 bracket and 21% of those with incomes of $100,000 or more.
The gender division also is significant, with reports of job losses or layoffs higher among women than men, 37 vs. 28%. That’s entirely due to the high level of job loss experiences among women who don’t have a college degree, 41%.
Reflecting these demographic differences, the job loss number is lower among Republicans, 25%, than among independents or Democrats, 35 and 34%, respectively.
There also are gaps among these groups – generally not as large – in who’s sustained a pay cut or a reduction in work hours. Here the big hit is among younger adults: Among those age 18-29, a broad 66% say they or someone in their immediate family has had their pay or work hours cut. It’s 59% among adults in their 30s and 47% among those age 40-64.
Differences are especially profound, moreover, in terms of who’s worried about a job loss in their immediate family (excluding those who’ve already experienced it): Seventy-one percent of racial and ethnic minorities have this worry, vs. 51% of whites; 63% of those with incomes less than $100,000 vs. 43% of those with higher incomes; and 70% among Democrats vs. 44% among Republicans (with independents in the middle in terms of this worry, 59%.) Results in concerns about a pay cut are generally similar.
Further, concern about job loss is higher in harder-hit states, reaching 64% of those in states with 1,000 diagnosed cases as of Sunday (when interviewing began), declining to 47% among those in states with fewer than 200 cases at that time.
Recession fears reflect local impacts. As noted, 43% say the coronavirus already has had a severe economic impact on their community (including 16% who say it’s very severe). Those who report a severe economic impact are far more likely than others to see a recession as very likely (71 vs. 47%), and more than twice as likely to think it’ll be worse than the Great Recession (47 vs. 22%).
Reports of severe economic impacts of the crisis peak in urban areas, at 51%, declining to 40% in the suburbs and 35% in rural areas. More people in the West reported severe economic impacts at the time of these interviews, 51%, vs. a low of 38% in the Midwest.
There also are political and racial or ethnic divisions on local impacts. Nearly half of Democrats and independents alike report severe economic impacts in their communities, vs. 32% of Republicans; and 51% of racial and ethnic minorities see severe impacts, vs. 39% of whites.
Beyond differing perceptions, this could reflect a difference in the distribution of virus impacts – greater in urban areas, as noted, where more Democrats and minority group members reside – as well as greater economic vulnerability in those groups. Indeed, 44% of Democrats live in one of the states with mandatory business closures at the start of these interviews, compared with 33% of independents and 23% of Republicans.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone March 22-25, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-24-37%, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Good Morning America(NEW YORK) -- As the novel coronavirus spreads across the country, the financial impact of the pandemic continues to devastate workers and small businesses.
A record number of workers -- 3.28 million -- filed for unemployment claims in the week ending March 21, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday. Average weekly claims total 200,000.
The Senate passed a massive $2 trillion stimulus bill that will provide expanded unemployment insurance for workers, emergency loans for small businesses and $1,200 to taxpayers earning $75,000 or less per year.
“Good Morning America” asked "Shark Tank" star and financial guru, Barbara Corcoran, to answer questions from small business owners on how to weather the storm.
Corcoran said it's time to pinpoint where your money is going and prioritize rent, mortgage payments and essentials.
“There are a lot of people that feel like they’re going to get great benefits from the government, and it’s good to have help from the government … but, it’s not a lot of money. You haven't won the lottery,” said Corcoran. "You're going to have to learn how to spread out your money. Make the rent and mortgage payments as your No. 1 priority and you do that because it's simply easier to replace a credit card than it is to replace a home."
She continued, "Comb through all of your bills, all of your credit card statements to see where you're actually spending your cash and then decide to only spend it on essentials. Because this is a time for self-restriction and discipline."
With all of this uncertainty, Corcoran answered questions from small business owners. Read on to get her expert advice below:
1. I own a catering company and we are in some crazy times right now. What would be the best way to use this stimulus money that we're being promised without falling deeper into debt - because you know, Uncle Sam is going to want his currency back. - Millie
Well, I think, Millie, you’re in the spot of every small business owner. If you’re going to save your business, it’s not going to be with a stimulus package. It’s going to be through hard work and making really tough decisions. If you decide to take the stimulus package loan, which is very favorable to small business, you’re going to need to keep your employees on the payroll, whoever they are. Rehire the people you’ve already let go, if you’ve already let go, and if you don’t, that loan is not going to be forgiven. You’re going to have to work like crazy to pay it back. I would think long and hard before taking any money if you’re not sure your business is going to [be able to] pay it back.
2. I own a small online luxury jewelry business. Every month, we spend money on Facebook and Instagram ads. We're wondering if we should turn all of our ads off and save our money or if we should pivot our message to speak about what's going on now. What do you think? - Jennifer
Well, Jennifer, lucky for you that you’re in the luxury market. In the luxury market, the customer has time on their hands, like everybody else does [now]. Everybody wants a great deal, so you have to make sure what you’re offering is not your usual stuff, but a really great deal. If you have the advertising dollars to still spend, consider yourself lucky -- a lot of people don’t. You should really be staying on top of Facebook and Instagram analytics and reporting to yourself daily, “What kind of return am I getting? Am I getting that bang for my buck that I deserve if I’m spending these advertising dollars?” But if you hustle, give a discount and stay on top of your analytics, you are one of the lucky people that should really sail through this hard time.
3. [Since] the corona virus outbreak, several events we had planned over the next few weeks and months have been postponed and canceled. I'm concerned about my employees who are paid on a 1099 basis, based on the hours that they work at each event. How can I look out for them? - Mary Grace
Well, Mary Grace, it sounds like you're a phenomenal boss and I understand and I get it. I’ve thought of all my people who have ever worked for me as my kids! I felt responsible for them. But here’s what I learned: you can only do so much. What you can do is that you can be honest and direct with your employees -- just tell them like it is. The good news for you, which you may not be aware of yet, is that you have help coming your way with the new stimulus package. Most people are included, including independent contractors, and that’s never happened before. You should stay on top of what qualifies [your employees] for what benefits and keep them totally informed. Last, so importantly, you should stay in touch with [your employees]. You don’t always have to give employees the answers they want to hear, but they want to be loved, they want to be cared for and they want to be in touch with you. You’re going to want to keep their morale up. You sound just the kind of person who is able to do that.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
glegorly/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The coronavirus pandemic has quickly evolved from a health crisis to a financial one, shuttering businesses, upending entire industries and sending financial markets reeling.
Here's the latest news on how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the economy. For more on financial resources available during the pandemic, click here.
Markets continue to rally
U.S. financial markets marched higher on Thursday despite the soaring unemployment numbers.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up more than 1,350 points, or 6.3%, while the S&P 500 gained 6.2% and the Nasdaq rose 5.6%.
The equities rally Thursday builds off of back-to-back gains on Wednesday and Tuesday. Lawmakers announced on Wednesday they'd reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package to help buoy the economy.
U.S. equity markets have seesawed for weeks as the COVID-19 outbreak has sowed uncertainty among investors. All three major U.S. indices plunged into bear market territory amid the pandemic.
Orange juice prices skyrocket
Orange juice futures have spiked more than 20% over the past month, as the global health crisis possibly has people seeking more doses of vitamin C.
"Industry sources suggest that demand has improved as consumers are returning" to frozen concentrated orange juice, Jack Scoville, vice president at the Price Futures Group, wrote in a memo Thursday. "The increased demand has really turned the market around."
"Crop yields and quality should be high for Florida this year," he added.
Record number of Americans file for unemployment
A record number of workers -- 3.28 million -- filed unemployment claims in the week ending March 21, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday.
That's an increase of 3 million from the previous week.
Among the hardest hit sectors was the service industry, particularly accommodation and food service. Nearly every state cited COVID-19 as the reason for skyrocketing claims.
Health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing or manufacturing industries were also heavily impacted, the Labor Department said.
Thousands of businesses have been forced to close amid government-mandated stay-in-place orders.
The staggering figure comes as the unemployment rate was near a 50-year low just weeks ago.
The previous record for weekly unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982. Thursday's total is three times the combined number of people employed by Apple, Target, General Motors, Boeing and McDonalds.
"The coronavirus outbreak is a truly unprecedented event in American economic history, flash-freezing the economy by forcing businesses to shut down and putting millions of American workers out of jobs," Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor's senior economist, said in a statement Thursday.
"Most historical comparisons of this scale are inadequate. The closest would be natural disasters like major hurricanes," he added. "However, as today's report shows, the coronavirus outbreak is economically akin to a major hurricane occurring in every state around the country for weeks on end."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
fergregory/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Last Monday, when the governor of Vermont issued an order banning gatherings of 50 or more people, the leadership team at Northern Stage in White River Junction knew what they had to do.
They had been planning for this incredibly tough moment as COVID-19 spread across the country.
The team called a full company meeting with all the actors, staff and stagehands and alerted the group of 45 that the theater would shut its doors immediately.
"It was just heartbreaking," production manager Jess Johnston said. "It was the worse day of most of our lives … we have all poured so many years into this organization. The company is a linchpin for our town."
Similar scenes have played out on stages across the country over the last two weeks.
The financial losses to the art and theater community are hard to calculate, with so many different business models. The art world is a hodgepodge of nonprofits and commercial enterprises of all shapes and sizes. A study last week from Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization, estimated that the theater and arts industry has already lost $3 billion in the wake of the current public health and economic crisis.
Much of the discussion in Washington has focused on the economic impact on restaurants, bars, travel companies and hotels. But the latest stimulus package passed in the Senate this week did include $25 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as well an additional $75 million in grants available through the National Endowment for the Arts.
"Theater is about being together, being in community together, experiencing stories together," Simon Godwin, the artistic director at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., told ABC News.
The only remedy prescribed to fight this virus -- so far -- has been an end to socializing.
Like Northern Stage, thousands of theaters closed shows midweek and canceled remaining productions. They suspended upcoming seasons indefinitely. Subscriptions and ticket sales have been refunded and there have been massive lay-offs in all 50 states.
"Basically everyone I know has lost their jobs. All of my loved ones are out of work," Johnston said. "The unemployment in my industry across the country is hard to wrap my brain around."
Johnston's theater is a mid-sized regional nonprofit with about a $4 million annual operating budget. The world premiere of "Citrus," a play about African-American history, debuted at the theater this month.
Johnston and others made the decision to pay the actors in "Citrus" through the end of the show’s scheduled run, but they canceled the contracts for the actors who had already been cast in the next production. The playhouse’s senior staff and department heads took a pay cut. A few other people were kept on, mainly for part-time administrative work. Other than that, all staff stagehands and crews -- dozens of carpenters, electricians, prop masters and dressers, who keep the lights on and get the each shows onstage each week -- were furloughed and advised to file for unemployment with the state.
In a normal year, most of those men and women earn a rather modest salary of about $30,000 from the theater. Many are younger professionals, and, according to Johnston, have left Vermont and scattered across the country to move back in with their parents.
Others who have roots in the community are hunkering down and relying on a sense of togetherness that is unique and profound among artists.
"No one is immune right now and in a way there is something beautiful in that," Johnston said.
Johnston worried about one staff member who had just bought a house.
"People have a good attitude right now, but I worry so much about people on my team who live paycheck to paycheck ... in three weeks, how are they going to be able to afford to eat?" she said.
Artists and theater employees know that convincing theatergoers to come back to see a show could take time.
"If people are scared to be in a room together, you can't just snap your fingers and tell people it is safe," Johnston said.
Jeannie Naughton lives in New Jersey but has worked on Broadway for more than 25 years as a dresser. She maintains costumes for some of Broadway’s biggest stars and executes the complicated costume changes backstage. She recently took a leave from the Broadway production of "Hamilton" to dress Patti LuPone in her revival of "Company," which was set to open on Broadway last Sunday. Like her colleagues, she is in a holding pattern.
Her husband is an actor and while they have some savings, she is worried he may not qualify for unemployment with the state of New Jersey. Her family is hoping New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy might be able to work out a deal with banks to put mortgage payments on hold.
"There is a residual feeling of being overwhelmed," she said. "We are following everything we have been told to do the best we can, but the uncertainty prays on your head and stress comes out."
Like thousands of other artists who work in theaters across the country, Naughton receives health insurance benefits through her union, New York’s Theatrical Wardrobe Union, Local 764. As is common practice in the industry, artists must work a certain number of weeks per quarter to qualify and be eligible for benefits. With production schedules so uncertain right now, there is added anxiety for all union members.
Naughton’s union worked alongside several others to negotiate a deal last week with the Broadway League of producers and theaters to guarantee a few weeks of emergency wages and health insurance benefits for those who were instantly out of work.
She said her "Ham Fam," a group of colleagues who worked together on "Hamilton," has started a conference call at midnight to gather and talk and offer support.
Amber White, the production stage manager on "Hamilton," said theater people are used to weird hours as well as the inherent uncertainty in their work.
"We are freelancers at heart ... independent contractors, paid for work we do, hours we work -- that’s it," she told ABC News.
While White has worked on "Hamilton" for the last several years, she said this moment has been a reminder of a deep truth all artists know well: paid work can come and go.
"No matter how secure you feel, anything can happen any moment," she said. "If this has had happened to me 20 years ago, I don't know where I wold be. I am very fortune we have been doing this for long enough to have a little savings."
At best, most people in theater work show-to-show, season-by-season. Long-term employment can be rare. There is a sensibility and mindset that comes with the business that she and Naughton agree will help artists weather this moment.
"It’s the trick of being an artist: balancing making art with making a living," White said. "We have to figure out how to feed ourselves our way."
"Once we get out of our cloud of fear and anxiety, out of our bouts of depression, which we always do," White added. "We gravitate towards creating life and work for ourselves. We are malleable."
At home, Naughton has put her sewing skills toward a new mission: making surgical masks for a local hospital to extend the lives of disposable masks that doctors and nurses desperately need right now.
"I want to have a purpose, if I can help our people feel on the front lines .... plus, people in theater have a wellspring of creativity and troubleshooting and problem-solving skills," she said.
The Shakespeare Theater Company is experimenting with moving some of its programming online. It is hosting virtual happy hours and will likely offer lectures in the coming weeks. Other artists have launched online dance classes and workshops teaching crafts to kids.
Those artists fortunate enough to work on productions as popular as “Hamilton” can at least expect their shows will reopen and their incomes will return as soon as people can gather safely again. But many others in the business are just not that lucky. Some productions, even ones slated for the big lights of Broadway, are completely up in the air right now.
On Tuesday, the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ nonprofit announced that more than 20 producers had offered a $1 million challenge to match donations to a new COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund for those in the business.
"With every passing day that theaters remain dark, entertainment professionals face unprecedented health and financial challenges requiring immediate attention and resources," the announcement read.
"The anxiety level across city and country is intense," Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares, said. "We are all looking at an uncertain future that could last months down the road."
He said he worries about the ushers, bartenders and people who sell merchandise in the lobbies.
"Some of the best work we do is help people navigate intense bureaucracy that exists around hospitals and government services," he said.
Back in Vermont, Johnston said her theater could really suffer if donations dried up. More than half of the theater's revenue comes from grants and contributions.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company has found success by asking supporters to give now rather than later. "It’s an act of faith from supporters and a promise from us," Godwin said.
Godwin noted that William Shakespeare's own theater was often closed during the plague.
"He would go to the countryside to write. His vaccine was poetry," Godwin noted. "We have to keep the faith and be creative … there will be a renewed appetite soon enough for a shared experience, that feeling of being present alongside other human beings."
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Gwengoat/iStock(NEW YORK) -- As the number of people infected with the COVID-19 virus continues to climb, so does the number of unemployment claims made in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday morning 3.28 million unemployment claims were filed in the United States between March 15 and March 21, the largest number on record. That number is the equivalent of the entire city of Chicago being out of work -- and doesn't even include those who were not able to file immediately, those who work off the books for their livelihood, or undocumented immigrants who now find themselves out of work.
With mandatory shutdowns of various businesses across the country, businesses are struggling to keep their employees on the payroll. The number of Americans out of work in the blink of an eye shows just how damaging this virus has been to the U.S. economy.
Here are some stories of those who have had their financial life upended by this global pandemic:
Jamie Gabel and Christina Liberatore Gabel, New York
Last week, Jamie Gabel worked as a physician’s assistant until he was abruptly laid off.
“It's honestly been a disaster,” said Christina Liberatore Gabel, who lost her job as a hairstylist the week prior. “Both of us have lost our jobs -- and so now we're scrambling to figure out how we can pay our bills, pay the mortgage ... kind of trying to figure out how long is this going to last – is it going to get worse?”
Christina says they’re mostly worried about their children, and how much longer they will have to wait out this pandemic.
“We have two children, one has autism, and all of his programs are shut down,” she told ABC News. “And he's regressing right now.”
Christina and Jamie are hoping things return to normal as soon as possible for the sake of their family.
“I think they need to really figure out how to get the city up and running as fast as possible,” said Christina.
Anonymous undocumented immigrant, diner chef in Long Island, New York
An undocumented chef at a local Long Island diner, who agreed to speak with ABC News on the basis of anonymity, says he’s been working there for almost eight years.
“I wasn’t prepared for this,” he said. “And I can’t apply for unemployment.”
He tells ABC News he’s worried about paying his bills.
“There's no money coming every week,” he said. “How I could pay my rent? How I could pay my bills? And how I could take care of my family?”
He noted other undocumented immigrants who’ve found themselves in the same position. Some of them, he added, are more afraid than most of getting sick.
“I know some people who are afraid to go to a hospital if they get sick,” he said. “Because, you know, ICE – they are very afraid of ICE.”
He told ABC News that some of these immigrants will be afraid to share their financial struggles during this pandemic.
“People are afraid to let their voices out,” he said. “I hope my voice counts.”
Carlton Oakes, inventory supervisor at a global inventory and data collections company in Arkansas
Oakes was midway through job training when he was abruptly laid off. The same day, he sought to apply for unemployment with the help of his wife, Michelle. They first attempted to apply for unemployment online via the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services (ADWS) website, but immediately encountered difficulties.
"The website won’t accept my Social Security [number], it pops up as invalid -- and I’ve had friends who say they’ve had the same problem," Oakes told ABC News.
He turned to the department’s phone lines, which he says were constantly busy.
As a last resort, Michelle Oakes went to the department’s office in hopes of submitting a written application. She was in disbelief when she found out getting into the office wasn't even a possibility.
"You can’t even get into the office, you have to walk into a plastic walled room," said Michelle. "You can’t stand 6 feet apart [from other people], it's maybe 10’ by 10’ if that -- and there's that dropbox that you have to put your application in."
On Wednesday, the Oakes received an updated notice from ADWS regarding filing for unemployment.
“They’re referring us to the internet and the phone line,” said Michelle. “But as soon as the phone picks up, there’s a message that says, ‘heavy call volume,’ and you become disconnected immediately.”
Carlton Oakes has still been unable to file for unemployment.
Julianna Calderon, server at a local restaurant in Long Island, New York
Calderon worked at a local restaurant in Long Island, New York, before she was laid off last Tuesday.
“I’ve been working since I was 15 years old,” Calderon, 24, told ABC News. “I never thought I would go through something like this – especially at such a young age.”
Calderon says she’s in the middle of paying her student loans, and she just adopted a three-month-old puppy.
“I can't imagine being unemployed for longer than a month,” said Calderon. “I just can't do it.”
Calderon was one of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who visited the New York State Department of Labor's website last week to apply for unemployment.
“You’d get through about two pages of paperwork, and the website would just crash,” Calderon said. “It took me two days alone to create an account.”
Once she was able to create an account, the website prompted her to call the department.
“Sometimes I would call and it would just be like a dial tone – or it would just hang up on you midway through the automated message,” she said. “It makes you just want to stop trying, but you can't… because you need money.”
Calderon still hasn't been able to apply for unemployment, as she says her calls to the NYS Department of Labor have been fruitless. She plans to wake up early Thursday morning, the next day she’ll be able to apply, and attempt to be one of the first people to call the department.
Ryan Connolly, a software developer in Tampa
Connolly worked at RDK Truck Sales until last Tuesday. He sensed something was off when his managers contacted him via Google Hangouts. His premonition proved correct, as he was soon laid off without notice of when to return.
“I was completely on my own at that point -- they told me sales were down, phones weren’t ringing ... and they had to let go of 10 people," Connolly said. “For a company of around 50 people, that’s pretty big.”
Connolly hoped to be one step ahead of unemployment filing, immediately looking for available jobs and tried applying for unemployment on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) website.
"I was hoping at that point that I would kind of get ahead of the big unemployment wave, but I was probably just put right in the middle of it,” Connolly told ABC News. "It would try to load, load, load, and I would get failure messages in my browser, so at that point, reality hit, I was definitely not the only one in this boat."
Connolly still has not been able to apply for unemployment, but remains focused on finding new work by contacting recruiters and reaching out to his personal network. Weary of an overloaded phone line and malfunctioning website, Connolly hopes that the stimulus plan will make a difference, and those currently affected will see greater unemployment benefits in the near future.
Elizabeth Mejias, server at a restaurant in Los Angeles
Elizabeth Mejias was a server at a restaurant inside LAX airport in Los Angeles. Mejias was told not to come into work until further notice last Friday. Her manager informed her that the restaurant would soon cut staff and hours following a hard financial hit to their business from growing COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was told to stay at home, stay safe, and that H.R. will let us know if anything happens regarding layoffs,” she continued. For now, she continues to live in limbo.
Mejias’ husband, who works as a mechanic at LAX, also worried about being laid-off as rumors swirled about the possibility of an airport closure. She and her family have a small amount of savings that could keep them afloat for a few weeks, but they worry about being able to provide for their elderly parents who depend on them financially.
She has also been homeschooling her two children following school closures mandates.
“I am worried, but I just can't show that to my kids,” Mejias said. “I can’t let them see that I'm scared and that I have no control of anything. They look up to us. We are the parents. And what’s the point of panicking if they will make other family members panic more.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Kameleon007/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Comedy clubs, bookstores and cocktail makers are among the millions of American small businesses facing a race against time in an unprecedented financial battle for survival.
"It's not funny. You know, that needs to be clear," said Allyson Jaffe, co-owner of DC Improv, which closed its theater and laid off nearly all of its staff this month because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. "It's been a nightmare. The word I keep saying is 'horrific.'"
Businesses that employ fewer than 500 workers are a key pillar of the U.S. economy and uniquely susceptible to an abrupt economic shock.
"Half the people who work in this country own or work for a small business. So that's half our jobs," said Karen G. Mills, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School and former administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration during the Obama administration.
"They have very low cash buffers. On average, they have about 26 days of cash," Mills said.
Congress this week is expected to approve a major infusion of cash -- more than $350 billion in emergency loans for small businesses that include a big perk: owners won't have to pay back the government, if they use the money to cover rent or worker wages.
"I would take that deal any day to allow us to do that, if those loans could therefore be forgiven," said Pia Carusone, CEO and co-founder Republic Restoratives Distillery in Washington, D.C., which produces craft vodka, bourbon and brandy.
"Our bills don't just stop. We have a working capital loan that we've got so much debt on and a large rent bill every month from our landlord," Carusone said. "So, we're not in a good position to have nearly zero revenue coming in to our wholesale business."
Adam Waterreus, who owns Lost City Books in D.C., has seen a steep 75% decline in sales since the pandemic hit. He's laid off four employees and is struggling to keep three others on payroll.
"It seems like (financial relief) might be happening, which I think is important, that they’re giving certain provisions to small businesses," he said of the $2 trillion federal coronavirus relief package.
Waterreus said he is nervous about taking on more debt with new loans but is optimistic financial aid might keep him afloat for the short-term.
"We're not meant to be a place where we're online marketplaces; we're like your local bookstore," Waterreus said of the desire to keep his doors open.
At the comedy club, Jaffe laid off 50 employees this month -- including her husband -- but still managed to find humor in the situation.
"He said, 'Well, this is the first time I got laid this month,'" she said with a grin as she recalled the conversation with her spouse. "Laughter will bring us together and help us get through it."
"We'll apply for loans," Jaffe added. "And obviously, if it's a forgivable loan, that would be a better option for us as a business and would help us weather the storm even more."
While many business owners and advocates have praised the government's relief package, there is widespread concern federal funds won't get distributed quickly enough.
"We will be lucky if most small businesses see any assistance in less than two months," wrote finance lawyers Adam Levitin and Satyam Khanna in a New York Times op-ed. "That is time they -- and their employees -- do not have."
Senate staff involved with drafting the plan say they've tried to streamline the loan process as much as possible, allowing business owners to apply for aid at one of more than 800 lenders nationwide that partner with the Small Business Administration.
"Considering it is a 100% guaranteed loan, it shouldn't be overly complicated," one senior Republican aide involved in the process told ABC News.
"These local banks across the country should very quickly be in the position to start moving money into the hands of small businesses, not-for-profits and others," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, in a video message. "We feel it's going to make a big difference especially for the cafeterias, the cafes, the small restaurants, the bakeries that have closed down."
The financial support is not unlimited. The congressional proposal would only cover about two to three months of rent, utility and payroll expenses for many small businesses.
The White House and some economists are pushing to lift the local shutdowns as soon as possible to jump-start the economy. President Donald Trump has set a goal of Easter -- April 12 -- weeks ahead of what many public health experts say may be safe.
"People are going to flow freely and re-infect each other and spread the virus. So I, as a small business owner who is suffering, would be very, very glad to make sure that we continue to shut down until we kill this thing," said Carusone, a former chief of staff to then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona and former top Department of Homeland Security official.
In the meantime, Carusone has transitioned her business to producing hand sanitizer. The distillery is churning out small bottles of homemade alcoholic gel, filling a 1,000-gallon order just this week from local government to equip police and medical workers.
Waterreus said he also opposes a rush to reopen before public health officials give the all-clear.
"That’s not, I think, responsible for me as a business owner," he said, acknowledging that crowds of browsing book buyers in his shop could create a dangerous situation if the virus is still spreading. "I would rather hear from the city or hear from Mayor (Muriel) Bowser and other health officials than I would (President Trump)."
Jaffe says she is trying to ride out the crisis by giving back to the community through what she does best -- making people laugh. The improv club is experimenting with virtual stand-up shows and online comedy classes.
"We want to give you a place to kind of -- even if it's your own place in your own little home and your office or living room or whatever," Jaffe said. "I don't want to charge people for it."
"It's also not healthy to just be in total fear and panic, you know? That's going to do more damage to you," she said. "Yes, the virus is going to hurt you, but that feeling is going to hurt you, too."
In other words: don't forget to laugh.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
David Nayfeld/Facebook(SAN FRANCISCO) -- When the coronavirus swept through San Francisco, closing businesses and forcing people to stay in their homes, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo knew he had to do something.
So Costolo, a partner in the popular San Francisco eatery Che Fico Alimentari, called up the restaurant's chef, David Nayfeld.
“I just called David and said, look, is there some way I can donate a bunch of money for a day for you guys to make a bunch of meals and pay for them for families who either are, you know, really economically struggling right now or haven't had time to prepare for the shelter in place?” Costolo told ABC News. “Maybe we can kill two birds with one stone to keep some of your staff employed and some of these families fed.”
Costolo threw in the first $2,000 and other investors quickly anted up and a post on Facebook was made along with a video announcing the Costolo Family Meal Fund.
“PLEASE ONLY USE THE PROMO CODE IF YOU ARE IN NEED,” the Facebook post read. “If you are in good shape and feel like buying someone else’s dinner you can also add a $50 to your bill to pay it forward to someone else in need.”
The first night the restaurant was able to serve 80 free meals.
Since then, the initiative quickly took off. Nayfeld reported they successfully served more than 1,500 meals for free.
While feeding people who might not have means during the COVID-19 outbreak, the meal making is also keeping some of Nayfeld’s 90 employees working with full-time benefits. Nayfeld said that he is able to keep about 17 staff members on and/or rotating on available shifts, rather than furloughing them.
“David and his team are working nonstop over there,” Costolo said. “I think they did about 320 meals last night. Feeding in upwards of 960 people.”
Nayfeld said he is only offering free meals to those in need, but is working on the honor system to determine eligibility.
“If someone tells me they need a meal, I’m going to go out on a limb and say 90% of the time they are telling me the truth,” Nayfeld said.
The Costolo Family Meal Fund drive donations, as of Wednesday, have topped $30,000, Nayfeld said. With no end to the coronavirus pandemic in sight, both men are committed to continuing this for as long as the lockdown is in effect.
“There's a social contract between, you know, people of means in a community and everybody else,” Costolo said. ”And that social contract entails that when the going gets tough, you step up and help out.”
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Anchiy/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Amid mandatory social distancing to halt the spread of novel coronavirus, a significant percentage of the country's office workers are working from home.
Critical to keeping American businesses afloat is workers having efficient and well-performing connectivity from home, which means not only sturdy Internet access from a reliable internet service provider but reliable wireless connectivity.
A home network may be using the fastest bandwidth available, but if there's poor Wi-Fi connectivity, performance issues may result when connecting a laptop, for instance, to a home router.
Several experts have shared with ABC News some tips to get the best wireless performance at home, including which common household items may be interfering with wireless signals.
"Keep in mind bathrooms and kitchens are full of pipes and wires, which derogates wireless signals," said Karen Sohl, a longtime Wi-Fi industry professional who's worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Cisco, Belkin and Linksys.
"It's best to keep your router away from these rooms, but if you must, know your signal to other rooms can become weaker," Sohl added. "If your router is near these rooms and aren't getting a good signal to other devices in other rooms, try moving your router into another room, for it might help strengthen your signal."
She also advised to "keep your router positioned away from metal objects, mirrors, walls made of sheet metal and even fish tanks -- these objects weaken the wireless signal."
"The main culprit," said Joseph Emmanuel, vice president of wireless engineering at Netgear, told ABC News, "is the microwave oven. It's only used for a short time, less than 30 minutes a day per the national average, but when it is used, it can block pretty much any 2.4 GHz band, so that any devices will not pass through any traffic."
The 2.4 GHz band is the frequency at which wireless routers transmit data. Newer routers also use the 5 GHz band, which offers faster performance but gets weaker with distance than the 2.4 GHz band.
Emmanuel advised users not to sit close to a microwave when using devices for real-time applications like video conferencing and video chat. He said to keep a Wi-Fi router at least a room or two away from the kitchen, or wherever a microwave oven is placed.
Also, to get the best wireless performance while working from home, you may want to disable Bluetooth -- often used for connecting speakers and streaming music -- because it can slow down the 2.4 GHz band, Emmanuel said.
Plants and water also may absorb a 2.4 GHz wireless signal. Both can reduce the reach of Wi-Fi, said Emmanuel. Mirrors can also degrade Wi-Fi, especially ones that are silver-coated. They act as metal shields.
While you don't have to remove these items from your home for a better connection, there are some strategies to take to improve wireless performance.
Of utmost importance, Sohl advised, is router placement.
"Position the router in the most central location in your home, preferably on a desk or bookshelf," added Sohl, who emphasized keeping routers on flat surfaces and off floors. "If you have a multi-story home, it's best to put your router on the first floor, higher up in the room like on a book shelf, so the wireless signal can be closer to devices on the second floor."
Also, it may be time to upgrade to a dual- or tri-band router that employs a 5 GHz band.
Some of the newest routers on the market are built with intelligence that will switch devices connected to the 2.4 GHz band to the 5 GHz band when interference and performance issues are detected.
It's also important to remember that while a router can't increase your Internet speed -- that's a fixed pipe of bandwidth provided by an ISP -- it can boost connection performance.
"A better router," Emmanuel explained, "can maintain that Internet speed across the range of your home."
Newer routers can also pass data quickly, manage multiple users on one home network better than older routers, and can help with traffic congestion.
Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.
Taechit Taechamanodom/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The nation's hospitals, facing dire shortages of lifesaving ventilators as the coronavirus outbreak continues, are finding help from an unlikely source: animal doctors.
The country's largest veterinary schools, animal hospitals and even zoos are offering up ventilators to hospitals that are scrambling to care for a growing number of critically ill coronavirus patients. Similar efforts elsewhere could produce hundreds of machines and save countless lives.
"Every single one of these ventilators makes a difference," Dr. Andrew T. Maccabe, chief executive officer of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, told ABC News.
Ventilators used on animals are identical to machines at hospitals, according to several animal doctors and hospital officials who spoke to ABC News. Dogs and cats with pneumonia and other respiratory issues, not unlike their human counter parts, benefit immensely from the breathing machines, which quickly can be repurposed.
"It's actually the same equipment that we use here," Dr. Leslie Lussier, director of Respiratory Care and the Pulmonary Function Lab at Tufts Medical Center, told ABC News.
The Boston-area hospital received three ventilators – the same models used by respiratory therapists at their facility -- from the veterinary school at Tufts University on Monday, and had them inspected, cleaned and outfitted with new equipment for human patients within several hours.
"We have them in our arsenal, in our fleet, ready to use," Lussier said.
The mechanical breathing machines, used by patients unable to breathe on their own, are among the most crucial tools available to doctors in the fight against severe cases of COVID-19, for which there is no vaccine.
Ventilators remain in short supply in the United States and around the world. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state has become the center of the epidemic in the U.S., urged the federal government on Tuesday to provide more respirators from a national stockpile to help the state meet its projected need of 30,000 in the coming weeks.
While manufacturers have pledged to produce more machines, and American auto companies are exploring how to help with ventilator production, supplies still trail demand.
"This is a critical and desperate need for ventilators," Cuomo, who said New York had 3,000 to 4,000 and had ordered an additional 7,000, said at a news conference.
In a sign of how severe the shortage had become, earlier this week New York hospitals began exploring ways to use individual ventilators on multiple patients at once, and working up protocols to determine how to ration a limited number of machines to save the greatest number of patients.
The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates medical devices, has shown a bit more flexibility on rules as the desperation mounts. That has included allowing the use of devices that "may be used outside of traditional use" if ventilators supplies stay low.
Animal ventilators also have been transferred in New York state.
Cornell University's veterinary school has loaned two ventilators and an oxygen unit to Cornell's medical school in New York City, through its location in Stanford, Connecticut, and is preparing to send another three ventilators and 19 anesthesia machines to Cayuga Medical Center in upstate New York, in addition to nearly 1,000 masks and diagnostic testing materials.
"From our point of view, if everybody can pitch in and make available what we have, that will help and help some patients in critical need," Lorin Warnick, dean of Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine, told ABC News.
The animal machines may be especially helpful in rural areas that may not receive as much attention as urban hot spots stricken by novel coronavirus. In Colorado and Alabama, veterinarians have already loaned their ventilators to nearby hospitals in smaller communities facing shortages.
"They called back on Sunday and said, 'We need them now,'" said Dr. Ellen Behrend, acting director of the Auburn University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which sent three ventilators to East Alabama Medical Center in Opelika, Alabama.
Dr. Beth Davidow, a Seattle-area critical care veterinarian and president-elect of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, said she began collecting information on ventilators from veterinarians around the country after speaking to the chief operating officer at the University of Washington's medical center.
"Many people on the human side don't realize we use ventilators on animals, and hadn't even thought that that would be a place to look," she told ABC News. They don't realize that they're human-grade machines we're buying, either new or refurbished."
In a matter of days, she's already identified nearly 250 ventilators that could potentially be repurposed to help humans.
"Even though this is a small supply, if we save even one more person, it's worthwhile to do this," Davidow said.
Veterinarians around the country also are donating extra protective equipment, testing materials and other supplies to local hospitals despite facing shortages of their own.
"We're here to serve pets, but we're also here to serve the public health needs of our area," Hannah Thomas, a veterinarian at Snodgrass Veterinary Medical Center in Bowling Green, Kentucky, told ABC News.
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ljubaphoto/iStock(NEW YORK)-- Last Monday, Julianna Calderon worked as a server at a local Long Island restaurant, but that changed shortly after she turned on her TV and watched New York Governor Andrew Cuomo deliver his executive order.
"Any bar or restaurant closes at 8 p.m. tonight," Cuomo announced, along with several other measures in an attempt to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Most New York bars and restaurants are now limited to delivery or pickup only.
"We have to do it, we have to be serious,"' Cuomo said.
The next day, a manager informed Calderon that she was terminated. "I’ve been working since I was 15 years old,” Calderon, 24, told ABC News. "I never thought I would go through something like this -- especially at such a young age."
That same day, Calderon attempted to apply for unemployment, and she was not alone.
Last week, a total of 1.7 million people called New York State’s Department of Labor (NYS DOL). The department has seen a 1000% increase in claims in some areas of New York, according to a spokesperson.
New York is one of several states where mandatory shutdowns of various businesses have gone into effect -- sparking a drastic increase in unemployment claims that are overwhelming state labor departments.
Calderon first attempted to apply for unemployment online, but she says she immediately ran into complications.
"You’d get through about two pages of paperwork, and the website would just crash," said Calderon. "It took me two days alone to create an account."
On that Tuesday afternoon, Calderon was one of 110,000 others visiting NYS DOL’s website, according to a department spokesperson. That is nearly three times the number of visitors the site received the previous Tuesday.
NYS DOL was not the only state labor department to report issues stemming from website traffic last week.
"Going on the website -- it just didn’t load at all,” said Ryan Connolly, a software developer from Tampa Bay, Florida, who was also laid off last Tuesday. Connolly tried applying for unemployment on the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) website.
"It would try to load, load, load, and I would get failure messages in my browser, so at that point, reality hit, I was definitely not the only one in this boat," Connolly told ABC News.
A spokesperson for the FREO says the department is seeing a "historic increase" in Floridians applying for unemployment, but declined to disclose the total number of unemployment applications the department received last week.
The United States Department of Labor is asking states not to disclose any more unemployment data -- claiming the information is an important economic indicator that could potentially impact the financial markets. The DOL plans to release the unemployment figures Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
Despite the embargo, ABC News can already report a sharp spike in unemployment claims.
Last week, Pennsylvania's Department of Labor & Industry received approximately 121,000 online claims for unemployment in the span of two days, a spokesperson disclosed prior to the DOL’s request to embargo unemployment figures.
Tuesday, Morgan Stanley chief U.S. economist Ellen Zentner predicted that Thursday’s number would unveil a staggering 3.4 million jobless claims.
"That number that comes out on Thursday … it’s not even going to represent fully the amount of people that are trying to make a claim," said Calderon, who still hasn’t been able to apply for unemployment.
When she finally managed to create an account on NYS DOL’s website last Friday, she said she was prompted to call the department to complete her claim.
"Sometimes I would call and it would just be like a dial tone -- or it would just hang up on you midway through the automated message," she said. "It makes you just want to stop trying, but you can't ... because you need money."
Carlton Oakes, an inventory supervisor living in Arkansas, was laid off midway through his job training last week. Much like Calderon, his first thought was to apply for unemployment online via the Arkansas Division of Workforce Services (ADWS) website.
"The website won’t accept my social security [number], it pops up as invalid -- and I’ve had friends who say they’ve had the same problem," Oakes told ABC News. He turned to the department’s phone lines, which he says were constantly busy.
"I got the busy signal and then I finally got through -- and then after 15 minutes it disconnected me," said Oakes. He says his last resort was to go to the department’s office in person.
"You can’t even get into the office, you have to walk into a plastic walled room," said Oakes’ wife Michelle, who accompanied her husband. "You can’t stand 6 feet apart [from other people], it's maybe 10’ by 10’, if that -- and there's that drop box that you have to put your information in.":
The couple were reluctant to leave the application in the office’s drop box, which they say was left unattended, but said they had no choice. "I mean literally, you’re putting all your information down and anybody could get into this box," said Michelle.
An ADWS spokesperson did not answer specific questions about the department’s website and phone lines, but says the office has received "an influx in calls regarding unemployment applications."
NYS DOL says it has added server capacity to its website and has created an alphabetical system for New Yorkers to apply based on the first letter of the applicants last name.
Calderon’s designated day to apply was Monday, but she says she still couldn’t get through to speak with someone.
"It doesn't help at all," said Calderon. "It seems every week that goes by more and more people are applying and I can’t get through -- that's another week where there’s no money coming in."
Calderon says she’s in the middle of paying her student loans, and she just adopted a three-month-old puppy. She plans to wake up early Thursday morning, the next day she’ll be able to apply, and attempt to be one of the first to call NYS DOL.
"I can't imagine being unemployed for longer than a month," said Calderon. "I just can't do it."
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