May 22, 2020

Worship during the pandemic, new business strategies, federal loan options

Plus, an infection preventionist's offers advice on face masks and gloves.

After several weeks of streaming services online, Catholic dioceses in Arizona are taking initial steps toward offering public mass again.

Earlier this month, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Catholic Diocese of Phoenix announced that pastors could celebrate mass publicly with limited attendance, frequent sanitizing and other precautions. The diocese also issued safety guidelines for parishioners that include recommending they stay home if they feel ill or have recently traveled.

At St. Mary’s Church in Chandler, a Tuesday morning mass was attended by nearly two dozen parishioners. The church requires everyone ages 3 and up wear a face mask, and capacity has been reduced to 25%. The church attached photos of the congregation’s members throughout its pews to indicate where people are not allowed to sit.

The Catholic Diocese of Tucson indicated it is moving in a similar direction to revive in-person services. According to its website, beginning the weekend of May 29, pastors can petition the bishop for permission to offer public mass with basic safety protocols in place.

Across all religions, efforts to bring people together are happening gradually. In the meantime, traditional celebrations have been canceled or altered.

The Muslim Community Center of Tucson would normally welcome hundreds of people to celebrate the end of Ramadan on Eid al-Fitr. Instead, the center shared on Facebook that it will host a drive-thru event this Sunday that encourages parishioners to decorate their cars and drive by the center. Attendees are asked to wear a mask and stay in their vehicles. They can take home COVID-19 care packages.

Tony Paniagua spoke to Imam Wathec Alobaidi about the pandemic’s impact on worship and his message to the community.

“To all brothers and sisters, I want to say please, stay home and keep your body healthy,” Alobaidi said.

While the COVID-19 crisis has challenged businesses in unprecedented ways, it has also created new opportunities for a longtime printing company in Tucson. Tony Paniagua reports on how Reproductions, Inc. managed to offset overall declines in orders by adjusting to manufacture plexiglass shields that are now in high demand from businesses and institutions. The company has also seen an increase in orders from construction companies for signage that reminds workers to maintain physical distancing on building sites.

Among the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, retail sales nationwide plunged more than 21% in April compared to last year, according to data published by the University of Arizona Eller College of Management Economic and Business Research Center.

Longtime retailer Sam Levitz started 2020 on a high note but had to hit the brakes in March and closed during April. In May, the company reopened its stores with added precautions, which Tony Paniagua discussed with CEO Sam Levitz.

“In March, we had 628 staff members and we furloughed about 550 of those once we had to shut down. And then, more recently, we have brought back 500. So, we are now almost fully staffed,” Levitz said. “We figured that we were probably going to reopen at probably about 50% of where we were. And we’re doing a little better than that.”

Stores now require staff and customers wear masks, which are supplied by the company if a customer arrives without one. It also cut back hours and allows customers to schedule an appointment during times of the day when fewer people are in the building.

“Our most important process that we are concerned about is our staff and customer safety. And we’re going to do everything above and beyond what is called for to make sure that that happens,” Levitz said.

The CARES Act injected billions of dollars in funding for loans provided by the Small Business Administration. SBA’s coronavirus relief options include the Paycheck Protection Program, which the administration will forgive if employers retain employees using the funds provided, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, which offers recipients more flexibility as far as how they apply the funds toward capital expenses. We got clarification on the options available from Shivani Dubey, deputy district director of the SBA’s Arizona district office.

“In Arizona, we’ve got 72,000 businesses that have received the PPP loan. And that’s to the tune of $8.5 billion,” Dubey said. “Nationally, we still have about $100 billion in funding left.”

Recent reports have underscored concerns from business owners who worry they may have to violate the forgiveness terms granted through PPP loans in order to cover more pressing expenses. Dubey said the program’s stipulations have not changed and urged applicants to be aware of all of the conditions they sign up for beforehand.

“If the forgiveness part doesn’t happen, it turns into a 1% loan and you have two years to pay that back,” Dubey said. “If you put in 10 employees to get that PPP loan, then you’ve hired back 10 employees to keep the forgiveness model clean.”

Dubey said the administration typically defines small businesses as employers that have 500 workers or fewer, but there are variances to that rule.

As face masks and gloves become popular accessories to slow the spread of coronavirus, we got insight into the proper protocols for wearing these types of personal protective equipment from Brandie Anderson, the infection prevention director for Banner-University Medical Center Tucson.

Anderson advised that most members of the general public avoid wearing gloves because the risk remains high that they will accidentally transmit germs picked up by the gloves to other personal items, including phones, wallets and keys.

She also demonstrated how to properly secure a mask and advised against purchasing professional PPE for personal use.

“All of the people that really need that PPE are using it to take care of very sick people. So, the CDC guidance actually does not recommend that we use health care-grade masks,” Anderson said. “There’s lots of resources out there on how to make your own out of things that you have laying around your house already.”

Arizona 360
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