Local businesses may be hoping to reopen soon after Gov. Kate Brown’s March executive orders shutting them down, but it could be a while.
On Tuesday, Brown held a conference on “reopening” Oregon’s economy, outlining the criteria the state would need to meet before businesses could reopen safely, without causing a new spike in cases that could overwhelm hospital capacity.
“We all want to get back to work and return to life as normal as quickly as possible, but the truth is the best path forward is a cautious one — a path that proceeds gradually, incrementally and carefully. A path that relies on science and facts to determine each step forward,” Brown said.
In consultation with epidemiologists and public health officials, Brown said several components would need to be in place before bans started to lift:
- The growth of new cases would need to see a declining number of new cases over a period of time, the exact metrics of which a panel of health experts is working to determine now.
- The state would need adequate personal protection equipment, such as gloves and masks, not only for treatment of COVID-19 patients but also to resume currently postponed procedures, such as dental work, screenings and surgeries for things that aren’t life-threatening.
- The state would need a “robust public framework” to ramp up testing capacity and contact tracing in all parts of the state, quickly identifying new cases and isolating them and their recent contacts.
- All parts of the state would need the ability to quarantine local cases, including those who are homeless or live in group settings, such as nursing homes.
At that point, Brown said, restrictions would slowly lift, likely with new requirements until a vaccine or reliable cure is available. Manicurists and hair stylists may be required to wear masks and gloves, for example.
While businesses across the country wait to reopen or resume normal operations, local, state and federal agencies are doing what they can to help those businesses.
Umatilla County is offering $1,000 grants to businesses with 25 or fewer employees that have been impacted by COVID-19. Grant applications can be found at www.umatillacounty.net/grants and are due April 21.
The federal Paycheck Protection Program allows small businesses and nonprofits — those with fewer than 500 employees — to borrow up to 2.5 times their monthly payroll to pay rent, utilities and payroll for eight weeks.
The loan will be fully forgiven if borrowers follow the rules of the loan, including spending at least 75% of the forgiven amount on payroll and not decreasing staff or wages during the time period.
Kelly McPhee, vice president of communications for Banner Bank, said its branches have received 11,482 inquiries from businesses about getting one of the loans.
She said Banner Bank is one of the top lenders for the Small Business Administration in Oregon, and usually processes 250 applications in a year. In the first four days of the PPP, they did 443.
She said banks started processing things a little slower than they do for some types of loans because they had to create a brand-new process basically overnight, while social distancing, and it is crucial that everything be filled out correctly so that businesses can get most or all of the loan forgiven after eight weeks.
“We definitely don’t want to misstep,” she said.
Banks have rules about how much money they can lend out in comparison to their balance sheets, and McPhee said while Banner Bank is not in that position yet, some other banks in the area have already exhausted their ability to extend PPP loans to customers.
Businesses impacted by COVID-19 can also apply for a low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loan directly from the Small Business Administration.
Umatilla Electric Cooperative has set up a new resource for businesses interested in applying for both federal programs.
The Umatilla Electric Cooperative Business Resource Center opened Thursday at 1475 N. First St. in Hermiston.
Staff include Emily Cecil as the lead business advisor and Ashley Garcia Sandoval as the business intake counselor. They will be available to provide free assistance to area business owners in applying for federal grants and low-interest loans available to businesses experiencing negative effects from COVID-19.
CEO Robert Echenrode said in a statement that UEC was pleased to announce the resource for local businesses during “this period of uncertainty.” Board member Bryan Wolfe stated while the cooperative cannot change what is happening globally, they can work on improving the economic viability of the community.
Gregory Smith & Company manages UEC’s revolving loan fund for economic development. Smith, the new business center’s executive advisor, said UEC was able to put together the new resource in less than a week after the idea was hatched. The center is open to anyone needing help, but UEC will also be reaching out to all of its business accounts to inform them of the opportunity.
For more information, call the center at 541-289-3000. Staff are available to advise businesses by phone, video conferencing or at the office from behind a glass divider to protect from germs. Office hours are Monday-Friday from 8-5 p.m., with a closure for lunch from 1-2 p.m.