Resources For Businesses On COVID-19

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Mar 11, 2020

While there are no confirmed coronavirus cases in the Wilmington area, officials are advising businesses to begin planning and making preparations for the illness.

Seven people have tested presumptively positive for COVID-19 in the state since North Carolina's first confirmed case March 3, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

“At this point, we believe that now is the time to prepare, not panic," Megan Mullins, vice president of marketing and communications for the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said in an email. "We’re working closely with the city of Wilmington and New Hanover County in monitoring the COVID-19 coronavirus and its potential impact on our region."

The Wilmington chamber has been providing information to chamber members about the virus and plans to continue providing resources in its weekly newsletter, through email and social media "to help the business community prepare appropriately," Mullins said.

Besides repeating personal hygiene messages to help prevent the virus's spread, state health officials also recommend that businesses should review policies and procedures for remote or teleworking where possible. To keep from daily interruption from employee absences, DHHS also recommends that businesses cross-train employees for key functions.

The department encourages firms to contact local health departments for concerns or questions about the disease, which the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also has tips for business preparation and cleanliness, including encouraging sick employees to stay home and ensuring that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance.

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency to increase the state’s ability to respond to the coronavirus, among other measures.

New Hanover County has established a website for information on COVID-19. The most recent guidance from the county Tuesday states those at risk of serious illness from the coronavirus to begin practicing social distancing, and that event planners take extra steps to prevent the impact of COVID-19 in the area.

The Downtown Business Alliance (DBA) held its monthly meeting early this week, and the topic of the coronavirus came up, group president Terry Espy said.

As an organization, the DBA is taking the lead from New Hanover County and the state, said Espy, who is also president of commercial real estate firm MoMentum Companies Inc.

The DBA, she said, is monitoring for big events it is sponsoring such as the St. Patrick's Day Parade and Festival on March 14, adding that “after a conversation with the city and county we are leaving everything on go.”

New Hanover County is recommending for event planners to take steps, including moving events to larger areas to maintain safe distances from each other and increasing handwashing and sanitation stations at events and county buildings.

"County departments will not, for now, add any new in-person events to the calendar," stated the county's release.

"As monitoring continues, depending on the risk of COVID-19 in the area, events may be canceled at any time, with little to no notice," county officials said in the release.

At least one local event, the Cape Fear Museum's Experience STEM-ILM 2.0 on Thursday, is being postponed, organizers announced Wednesday. Officials did not release a new date.

For MoMentum, Espy said the firm is still receiving clients from as far away as Los Angeles, who have no immediate plans for changing their trips to the Port City.

Other local groups also said they are continuing to gather information and monitor the situation.

“We have members and businesses working in a variety of jurisdictions, and we will pass along information as local decisions are made,” said Tyler Newman, president and CEO of Business Alliance for a Sound Economy, a local nonprofit organization and advocate for area business and industry.

Large companies are keeping a close eye on conditions as well.

Wilmington-based nCino is actively following the situation and paying close attention to new developments and guidelines from the CDC, WHO and other health organizations, Natalia Moose, nCino's manager of public and analyst relations, said in an email late last week.

The firm is also encouraging best practices to help prevent the spread of the virus, she said, adding, "the safety and well-being of our employees is our top priority."

PPD, a Wilmington-headquartered contract research organization, released several measures the company is taking during its earnings call last week, stating it was monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and taking a three-pronged approach to address it.

But several members of the business community also wanted to exercise caution about creating too much tension about the virus locally, since it has not reached the Wilmington area.

“If we all start overreacting, we will start to do more harm than necessary," Espy said. "But we all need to be very aware and ready."

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