Information for BRI Members About the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 Outbreak
Last Updated: June 30, 2020
Although Westchester County had the first recorded case of COVID-19 on March 1, the pandemic has become a statewide, national, and international crisis. Despite the success of measures like ramped-up testing and social distancing to curb the number of transmissions, number of hospitalizations, and the number of deaths, it is likely we will be living with the public health consequences and reimagining the way we conduct business in Westchester and the mid-Hudson Valley for at least months and, more likely, years.
The BRI will regularly update this page with links to the best practical information available on reasonable and effective precautions to keep those who live and work within your building or office safe. If you have a specific question or suggestion not listed below, please email us at email@example.com or call us at 914-273-0730.
Preventing the Spread of Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19
Public health experts and government at all levels have issued identical recommendations on how to prevent the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19. These precautions are similar to steps for avoiding the flu, including:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue (not your hands), then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a cleaning product that contains bleach.
- Stay home when you are sick.
Per the Governor’s Executive Order, New Yorkers are encouraged to wear face coverings (cloth or otherwise) when in public or when likely to interact with the public in settings if they cannot maintain a social distance of 6 feet from other people.
Employers should inform and remind employees of these precautions, and encourage them to stay home and take a sick day if they are feeling unwell or have respiratory illness symptoms, even if they have no reason to believe it is related to COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published these helpful reminder graphics that can be shared with residents and employees alike.
Westchester County has also made posters available for posting in the common areas of multi-family dwellings.
What about emergency “social distancing”?
The CDC has issued recommendations for practicing “social distancing” to prevent the exponential increase in transmission of the virus have dramatically increased. Primarily, these involve keeping a distance of at least 6 feet from other persons at all times to the greatest extent possible. Though the number of hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 are still high, all available evidence suggests that social distancing measures over the past month, including “stay at home” orders for all but essential workers, has decreased the rate of transmission of the disease such that it will not push hospitals and other healthcare centers in the Greater New York Area past the breaking point.
Governor Cuomo announced a 10-point “New York State on PAUSE” order which continues to be in effect.
- Effective at 8PM on Sunday, March 22, all non-essential businesses statewide will be closed;
- Non-essential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason (e.g. parties, celebrations or other social events) are canceled or postponed at this time;
- Any concentration of individuals outside their home must be limited to workers providing essential services and social distancing should be practiced;
- When in public individuals must practice social distancing of at least six feet from others;
- Businesses and entities that provide other essential services must implement rules that help facilitate social distancing of at least six feet;
- Individuals should limit outdoor recreational activities to non-contact and avoid activities where they come in close contact with other people;
- Individuals should limit use of public transportation to when absolutely necessary and should limit potential exposure by spacing out at least six feet from other riders;
- Sick individuals should not leave their home unless to receive medical care and only after a telehealth visit to determine if leaving the home is in the best interest of their health;
- Young people should also practice social distancing and avoid contact with vulnerable populations; and
- Use precautionary sanitizer practices such as using isopropyl alcohol wipes.
What has the Governor ordered for businesses in regards to emergency “social distancing”? What are the Phases for re-opening?
The Governor has issued multiple emergency Executive Orders requiring that non-essential businesses keep 100% of their workforce home beginning Sunday, March 22 at 8:00 pm.
The order requires that “All businesses and not-for-profit entities in the state shall utilize, to the maximum extent possible, any telecommuting or work from home procedures that they can safely utilize.”
There are a number of exceptions listed by Empire State Development for “Any essential business or entity providing essential services or functions,” including specifically the following:
- “vendors of essential services necessary to maintain the safety, sanitation and essential operations of residences or other essential businesses;”
- “vendors that provide essential services or products, including logistics and technology support, child care and services needed to ensure the continuing operation of government agencies and provide for the health, safety and welfare of the public”
The Governor has put forward a comprehensive plan for reopening, called “New York Forward,” and has created a separate website for it at: https://forward.ny.gov/
A phased reopening of businesses began in some regions in May 15. Westchester County is considered part of the Mid-Hudson Region and received the green light to begin re-opening on May 26. Each region becomes eligible for each phase of reopening based on a number of health metrics. New York State has an online dashboard to monitor the metrics in each region necessary for reopening.
Phase One included construction, manufacturing, and retail.
Phase Two includes “professional services” and office-based jobs, including those related to real estate. Residential services, including multifamily building workers and related jobs like managing agents, have always been considered essential and never closed. Westchester became eligible to begin Phase Two on June 9.
Phase Three primarily focused on personal care businesses and services, and expanded dining options. Westchester became eligible to begin Phase Three on June 23.
Phase Four includes higher education institutions, low-risk arts & entertainment business, and media production. If the health metrics continue to indicate a manageable level of risk, Westchester will become eligible to begin Phase Three on July 7.
Please note that even if your business is exempt from the work from home requirement, the state order still requires you to enact social distancing measures to the greatest extent possible — specifically to allow for all persons in public to remain at least six feet from others. The state order also requires office-based businesses not to exceed 50% capacity in the office.
What should be done for construction workers to keep them safe at a job site?
The Governor’s office has provided guidance for construction businesses as they plan their re-opening:
- Summary guidelines for the safe operation of construction sites, including social distancing. They break these guidelines down into “mandatory” safety protocols and “recommended” best practices.
- Detailed guidelines including a form for construction businesses to sign and submit to the state affirming they have read and will adhere to these safety guidelines.
- A business safety plan template which may in the future be required to be presented to the state Department of Health once the business or the construction site is opened.
National Association of Home Builders has put together a detailed safety plan to prevent worker exposure to coronavirus, protective measures to be taken on the jobsite, personal protective equipment and work practice controls to be used, cleaning and disinfecting procedures, and what to do if a worker becomes sick. New York is one of only 4 states that has discontinued all but essential construction, so
The New York State Builders Association (NYSBA) has also provided its members and the Governor’s task force on reopening a thorough COVID-19 Exposure Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Plan for Construction specific to New York State which largely follows along the same lines.
Finally, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also has a webpage which provides guidance for construction employers and workers, such as those engaged in carpentry, ironworking, plumbing, electrical, heating/ ventilation/air conditioning/ventilation, masonry and concrete work, utility construction work, and earthmoving activities. This guidance supplements the general, interim guidance for all workers and employers of workers with potential occupational exposures to SARS-CoV-2.
What else should home builders and remodelers take into account when planning for construction in new or existing homes?
BRI and its partners have produced the following two resources which may be used as templates if they suit your company’s purposes. These are being shared as suggested language — we encourage you to check with your own counsel to determine if they’re appropriate for your job.
- The New York State Builders Alliance and BACI (Building and Allied Construction Industries of Westchester) have produced a sample sign that can be posted around a residential construction site to warn against unauthorized entry and to keep the site secure.
- Finger and Finger, BRI’s counsel, has produced a sample agreement between a contractor/remodeler and a homeowner when work will take place at a single family residence during this public health emergency. Please check with your own legal counsel as to whether this would be an appropriate agreement for you to use on a particular job.
What should be done for other workers to keep them safe within an office?
The Governor’s Executive Orders to enforce social distancing and to close non-essential businesses since March includes the requirement that “Each business and industry must have a plan to protect employees and consumers, make the physical work space safer and implement processes that lower risk of infection in the business.”
Suggested safety plans and protocols are available on the “New York Forward” website: https://forward.ny.gov/. These include New York-specific requirements, including that offices that re-open as part of Phase Two should not exceed 50% capacity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a comprehensive set of resources and considerations for office managers and principals on the steps they ought to take to create a safe and healthy workplace and protect workers and clients.
What does OSHA require in terms of record-keeping and job-related cases of COVID-19?
- It is a confirmed case of the virus (a positive test),
- It is “work-related” in that an event or exposure in the work environment either contributed to or caused an employee to contract the virus, and
- It results in death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer, or medical treatment beyond first aid.
What do I need to take into account when opening the pool in my building?
Extensive guidance has been provided at the federal, state, and county level on how to safely operate indoor or outdoor pools, including those located within multifamily residential buildings. We strongly recommend any building planning to re-open their pool area should:
1.) Review and incorporate into your operating procedures the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — “Considerations for Public Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Playgrounds During COVID-19” The CDC guidance states that “Proper operation, maintenance, and disinfection (e.g., with chlorine and bromine) of pools and hot tubs should remove or inactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.”
2.) Review and incorporate into your operating procedures the guidance from the New York State Department of Health — “Interim Guidance for Pools and Recreational Aquatic Spray Grounds During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.” Please keep in mind that a heavy emphasis is placed on adhering to the state’s social distancing requirements. Capacity should be greatly reduced and strictly enforced, participants should remain a minimum of 6 feet apart at all times, masks or face coverings should be worn when individuals are in public and social distancing cannot be maintained, and proper cleaning and disinfection protocols should be observed.
3.) Completely fill out the New York Forward Safety Plan Template and make sure you clearly describe how you are going to comply with the COVID-19 Guidance. The completed safety plan does not need to be submitted to the state for approval, but a copy must be sent to the Westchester County Department of Health prior to the County issuing your operational permit. It must clearly describe how you are going to maintain social distancing and sanitation at your facility. A copy of your plan must be retained on the premises and must be available to the New York State DOH, Westchester County Department of Health, and any and all local health or safety authorities in the event of an inspection or complaint.
4.) Apply for your operational permit from Westchester County Department of Health. Again, you must include in your application your completed New York Forward Safety Plan Template and affirm that you have read all the required documents and that you will comply with all of New York State’s guidance. You will need to email all materials to firstname.lastname@example.org, including the completed safety plan.
5.) Consider how your building’s insurance policy will or will not cover you in the event of a suspected COVID-19 transmission. Our partners at Levitt-Fuirst have prepared a brief overview, titled “COVID-19 and Insurance Claims Related To Pool Openings at Condominiums, Cooperatives, and Homeowners Associations.”
Please be safe and cautious in proceeding. If you do not think you have adequate resources to operate your pool safely in these vastly different circumstances, BRI urges you to err on the side of safety for your residents, employees, and visitors.
What has the Governor ordered for public employees in regards to emergency “social distancing”?
The governor has required state agencies and local governments to reduce their in-person workforce by 50% as well, with some limited exceptions. As a result, many of our members are seeing disruptions in the smooth processing of their interactions with public agencies at all levels of government, most particularly at the state, county, and local levels. In some cases, this is linked to a previous emergency measure requiring governmental bodies and public entities to reduce the employees at their workplace by 50%.
The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) has issued an advisory opinion on how this will effect filing submissions, timelines for response, and other matters at the Office of Rent Administration (ORA) and the Tenant Protection Unit (TPU).
BRI and our statewide partners have heard anecdotally that municipal offices which deal with inspections, building codes, and the issuing of permits have in some cases become non-responsive, operating at irregular hours, or not operating at all. Since construction has been listed as an “essential service” by the Governor’s executive order, such offices will need to be more accommodating and flexible.
If you are having trouble getting a timely response from a municipal office on a construction-related project, the BRI staff is ready to assist you. Please call our office at 914-273-0730 or email us at email@example.com.
What has the Governor ordered as relief for tenants during the state emergency?
On May 7, the Governor issued an executive order to protect renters during the pandemic and resulting economic crisis.
- The current moratorium on residential and commercial evictions will be in effect until at least August 20.
- Landlords will not be allowed to charge late fees for those who miss rent payments during the state of emergency related to the pandemic.
- With the consent of the tenant, landlords must allow for a tenant’s security deposit to be used to pay rent if the tenant is “eligible for unemployment insurance or benefits under state or federal law or are otherwise facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The governor mentioned he was in discussion with banks about providing landlords some relief from mortgage payments during this time, but no details have yet been forthcoming.
What have the Governor and County Executive Latimer done with regards to Westchester County property taxes during this state of emergency?
Westchester County Executive George Latimer announced on April 21 that an Executive Order by the Governor would allow the County to waive late fees for those unable to pay their county property taxes before July 15 due to loss of a job or loss of income during the state of emergency.
To have the fee waived, the resident or business must certify economic hardship caused by COVID-19. The threshold for the certification requires in part that a resident must have qualified for the STAR exemption, is not paying property taxes through an escrow account and can assert that they have suffered loss of substantial employment income as a result of COVID-19.
My co-op has an annual meeting happening soon — what do I do to comply with emergency “social distancing” measures?
Concerned co-op boards that do not wish to meet in person should consider alternative approaches to holding meetings, including either Video Conferencing or Telephone Conferencing. Finger & Finger has put together a one-pager with recommendations and guidance on how to hold a telephone or video conference board meeting.
What about cleaning and disinfection?
The 32BJ Training Fund has created this video to provide building service workers with guidance on maintaining self, healthy building environments during the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19)
The CDC has also issued very specific recommendations on cleaning and disinfection which are worth reviewing.
Westchester County is requesting that all owners of buildings in which the County leases space perform a Level 2 cleaning on a daily basis. Those owners with buildings in the proximity to a known CoronaVirus/COVID-19 case, should perform a Level 3 cleaning on a daily basis. They’ve provided a link to the CDC requirements for a Level 2 and Level 3 cleaning.
Finally, there is a lot of bad advice and bad information being disseminated by less than reputable sources on everything from non-medical home remedies to homemade alternatives to cleaning products and supplies that may be temporarily scarce. We urge you and your employees to avoid using any atypical concoctions, products, or home remedies for cleaning or other purposes.
How should I approach dealing with quarantined residents and/or employees?
Local county health departments, including the Westchester County Health Department, have established different quarantine levels for people who may have come into contact with the coronavirus, whether or not they are currently symptomatic for COVID-19. This is being referred to as a “self-quarantine,” but that term does not mean that these 14 day “shelter in place” requirements are non-mandatory.
You should review New York State’s guidance for individuals under quarantine. Note that a number of requirements have implications for multifamily buildings, including garbage pickup, food delivery, and shared bathrooms.
Given the current inability to determine who may have been infected with the coronavirus even without developing symptoms and the inability to differentiate between residents who are working from home as opposed to residents who are undergoing self or mandatory quarantine, we strongly recommend that all non-emergency repairs in apartments be suspended. By “emergency” repairs, we mean the traditional areas of fire, smoke, and water.
For emergency repairs, we recommend that you clearly communicate to your workers what will be provided to them to ensure their safety. Owners and managers should be providing goggles and gloves in any case, and masks and disposable haz mat suits would be appropriate in the current circumstance.
What employment issues or scenarios should I prepare for?
National Law Review has published a detailed FAQ of issues that are worth consideration in dealing with employees who have or who may have come into contact with coronavirus.
If you are not yet using direct deposit, we strongly recommend you set direct deposit up for your workers at this time. Some of you will recall during the last contract negotiation with 32BJ SEIU, not all of the workers wanted direct deposit at that time. Clearly, times have changed. Each check transmitted by direct deposit eliminates unnecessary close contact interactions, potentially including the worker picking up a paycheck from a central office, a managing agent visiting multiple buildings to drop off paychecks, and subsequent visits to the bank to deposit said checks.
At this time, there has been no indication that shelter-in-place or curfew orders will be forthcoming as they have for California and Italy. However, a simple and reasonable precaution would be, if you are an “essential business” as categorized by Empire State Development’s guidance, to produce a letter for each of your employees on your company stationery stating who they work for, where they work, and that yours is considered an “essential business” pursuant to the Governor’s Executive Order. They should have this letter in their possession as they travel to and from work.
What are the new paid sick leave policies that have been enacted in reaction to COVID-19?
At the state level, Governor Cuomo signed into law A. 10152 / S. 8090, “to provide sick leave benefits to employees and to provide sick leave benefits, paid family leave, and benefits due to disability for employees subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19.”
- employees subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantines working for businesses with 1-10 employees will receive unpaid sick days, full job protection, and can immediately qualify for paid family leave and temporary disability benefits.
- employees subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantines working for medium sized businesses (11-99 employees) and small employers (1-10 employees) with a net income of $1 million a year will receive 5 paid sick days, full job protection, and can immediately qualify for paid family leave and temporary disability benefits at the conclusion of their sick leave.
- employees subject to mandatory or precautionary quarantines working for large businesses (100 or more employees) and public employees will receive paid sick days for the duration of the quarantine, plus full job protection.
- employees qualify for paid family leave to care for a minor dependent child who is subject to a mandatory or precautionary order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19.
Effective 180 days after the bill becomes law (and so not directly responding to the public health emergency):
- employees working for small employers (1-4 employees), employees will receive five unpaid sick days per year, plus full job protection when taking sick days.
- employees working for medium sized employers (5-99 employees) and small employers (1-4 employees) with a net 1 income of $1 million a year, employees will receive five paid sick days per year, plus full job protection when taking sick days.
- employees working for large employers (100 or more employees), employees will receive seven paid sick days per year, plus full job protection when taking sick days.
At the federal level, President Trump signed the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” on March 18. Jackson Lewis has written up a summary of the new employer responsibilities under the law, as well as an FAQ.
What economic assistance programs for business owners or property owners have been put into place?
Small businesses and not-for-profits in Westchester are now eligible to receive low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital if they have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). We wanted to share this important information with our members. Our small businesses and not-for-profits are the lifeblood of our community. This first wave of assistance from the federal government is essential to provide some stability to our businesses and not-for-profits struggling with cash flow. The BCW is grateful to the SBA for including us in the declaration. Access to EIDL funds will help businesses cover basic essentials, such as payroll and fixed costs, in the short term, and will bring much needed certainty and stability at a time when it’s needed most.
For more information and to begin the process, please follow up with the SBA (https://www.sba.gov/disaster-assistance/coronavirus-covid-19) or the Business Council of Westchester (https://thebcw.org/)
On March 19, the New York State Department of Financial Services issued a new directive to New York State mortgage servicers to provide 90-day mortgage relief to borrowers impacted by the novel coronavirus. The directive includes:
- Waiving mortgage payments based on financial hardship;
- No negative reporting to credit bureaus;
- Grace period for loan modification;
- No late payment fees or online payment fees; and
- Postponing or suspending foreclosures.
Eligibility for waived payments is specifically based on financial hardship. The 90 days constitutes a grace period; those who participate in the program will still owe their payments, but will be allowed to pay them at a later date.
Where should I go for additional health information on Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19?
The New York State Department of Health has set up a hotline at (888) 364-3065 where Department of Health experts will be available to answer questions regarding COVID-19.
Additionally, you can consult these websites for further information. They are being updated regularly.
Listen to the March 13 episode of the “Building Knowledge with The BRI” Radio Show: ““A Guide for Employers of Local 32-BJ Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Personnel on Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situations!” Guest: Matthew Persanis, Esq., Labor Counsel, BRI & A Principal of Elefante and Persanis, LLP.
Listen to the March 6 episode of the “Building Knowledge with The BRI” Radio Show: “Preparing Your Workplace for the Fight Against the Coronavirus (COVID-19)!” Guest: Stuart Betheil, Principal, Fleet West Management Corporation.
Listen to the February 1 episode of the “Constructive Conversations with The Builders Institute” Radio Show: “What Property Owners, Managers and Boards Should Know — and do — about Pandemic Situations!” Guest: Stuart Betheil, Principal, Fleet West Management Corporation.