As small businesses begin to reopen weeks after drastic COVID-19 shutdowns in Florida, many owners are finding themselves navigating a mine field of issues they’ve never had to deal with before.
Janice Donaldson, regional director for the Florida Small Business Development Center at University of North Florida, is using the “COVID-19 preparedness plan template and instructions” from Minnesota to help small business readjust to revitalizing operations all over North Florida.
Democratic Gov. Tim Waltz‘s plan has no binding influence over Florida, Donaldson said, but it provides a coherent approach to reopening a business during a pandemic. It guides businesses to think about and explain the necessary polices, practices and conditions to meet Centers for Disease Control social distancing guidelines.
“It’s not just thinking about this from the owner’s standpoint or the manager’s standpoint. It’s communicating all of this to the employees and training the employees,” Donaldson said. “It’s thinking about the frequency of how often the bathroom has to be cleaned. It’s the nitty-gritty of doing this versus just the general.”
There have been some general guidelines issued in Florida such as continued social distancing and keeping restaurant capacity at 25% along with wearing masks and regular hand washing as businesses start to reopen. But Donaldson said small business owners are still faced with frustrating choices.
“Many small businesses still have some concern how they’re going to do that [reopen]. You almost need a business plan for reopening,” said Donaldson, who’s organization oversees small business development for 18 North Florida counties and handles about 1,700 clients.
Details are limited in Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ reopening plan.
The Minnesota plan includes several recommendations:
— Infection prevention measures.
— Prompt identification and isolation of sick persons.
— Engineering and administrative controls for social distancing.
— Housekeeping, including cleaning, disinfecting and decontamination.
— Communications and training for managers and workers necessary to implement the plan.
— Provision of management and supervision necessary to ensure effective ongoing implementation of the plan.
Donaldson said the Minnesota plan at the very minimum gets businesses to start thinking.
“What are you going to do? Maybe you don’t have to do all of this. But the question is for your specific type of business, how are you going to do that [reopen in the early stages]?” Donaldson said.
Small businesses are also faced with potential legal exposure if the virus spreads in their shop or office.
“What if a customer comes to my store or my restaurant or my hair salon and gets COVID-19? Will they face liability?” Donaldson said. “There’s not a good answer to that right now.
“It’s unprecedented, people don’t know what to do. We’re just trying to help small business through the process. I think this template is helpful in thinking through things you haven’t thought about,” Donaldson said.