COVID-19 Updates for the Trades: Coronavirus Resources, Links, Headlines for Contractors
The latest information on the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak, curated for the trades by ServiceTitan:
Key links for the trades: » New guide to how contractors can stay safe while doing their jobs in this pandemic, based on first-hand experiences from contractors performing essential construction repairs and services. Read more.
» It all starts with the basics. Check out this guide to proper handwashing, from a site that provides training materials for Certified Nursing Assistants. It's one step — but a critical one — in keep your team, and your customers, safe.
ASHRAE Releases Statements To Counter False Information About HVAC, Covid-19
To counter what ASHRAE says are false impressions about the potential spread of Covid-19 through recirculating HVAC systems, the trade organization has released two statements to clear the air.
ASHRAE, a leader in research, education and standards in the HVAC-R industry, is seeking to counter advice not to operate residential or commercial systems to reduce the chance of spreading Coronavirus. Contrary to assertions elsewhere, AHSRAE says HVAC systems can help stem the spread.
On the airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19: “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 through the air is sufficiently likely that airborne exposure to the virus should be controlled. Changes to building operations, including the operation of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems, can reduce airborne exposures.”
On the operation of HVAC systems to reduce SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 transmission: “Ventilation and filtration provided by heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems can reduce the airborne concentration of SARS-CoV-2 and thus the risk of transmission through the air. Unconditioned spaces can cause thermal stress to people that may be directly life threatening and that may also lower resistance to infection. In general, disabling of heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems is not a recommended measure to reduce the transmission of the virus.”
A position paper from ASHRAE was also released to support the statements.
Filtration and UV light systems reduce the level of airborne contaminants and other viruses, although specific effectiveness against Covid-19 has not been proven.
News reports on the possible spread of Covid-19 through HVAC systems have caused concern among consumers. ASHRAE’s guidance aims to help HVAC companies counter those concerns.
PPP Applications Acceptance Resumes, But Problems Remain With Website, Process
The Small Business Administration reopened application for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) on Monday, but reports of problems persist. The PPP, which had run out of funds in less than two weeks when the original $349 billion was exhausted, reopened Monday with an additional Congressional appropriation of $310 billion in funding.
Heavy demand and continued problems with the process remain, including crashes of the processing site, E-Tran, on Monday, minutes after the 10:30 a.m. EDT opening of the application process.
Chase, in a notice to customers on its website, warned that money could run out quickly.
More big companies, including the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, were reported to have gotten the forgivable loans ahead of the intended small businesses. (The team is returning the $4.6 million it was awarded.) Publicly traded hotels in Texas received $69 million and say they won’t return the money, citing the intent of the program to maintain paychecks for employees.
For small businesses still awaiting funding or approval, including those in the trades, stories like those are worrisome. So are thoughts of the future financial impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
A Goldman Sachs survey of more than 1,700 of its 10,000 Small Businesses members showed that 93 percent say the Covid-19 pandemic will impact the way they operate long-term, and 68 percent say it will permanently change their business model. The survey also surfaced worries about outsized impact on smaller companies and minority-owned businesses.
Link for the Trades
Key takeaway: The San Diego Development Services Department will accept permits online for all new projects starting May 4. Contractors will submit plans electronically for approval, removing the need for an in-person permitting visit. Will other areas follow suit, or have they already embraced online permitting processes in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Additional $310 billion in PPP funds approved, but businesses better hurry
The U.S. House of Representatives approved on Thursday a Senate bill that adds $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business relief effort intended to keep employees on company payrolls.
President Trump was expected to sign the measure immediately, restarting the flow of forgivable loans to American businesses harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill passed the Senate on Tuesday.
» Earlier: ServiceTitan’s tips for the application process.
The funding followed $349 billion in the CARES Act, after that money ran out on April 17, less than two weeks after the program started. Small businesses, including those in the trades, could use the forgivable loans to cover payroll, rent or mortgage interest, benefits and other expenses.
Applications for the money go through local banks, with $60 billion of the second wave of money headed for smaller institutions and credit unions and banks that serve minorities and rural areas, a stipulation the Democrats demanded. The Small Business Association administers the loans.
Some distributions, considered a lifeline for struggling small businesses, could come as early as Friday. An article in American Banker said the new funds could run out even more quickly this time around, perhaps in as little as 48 hours. Financial institutions are expected to flood the SBA with applications.
Apply for government relief funds fast through BlueVine: If you are not able to find success through your current financial institutions, or are looking for an alternative, our partner, BlueVine, is ready to support your business with funding through the program. You can apply online here.
Senate, White House Agree To Additional PPP Funding for Small Businesses
The Senate and the White House reached a deal to add another $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program, which had run out of money to help small businesses ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic keep employees on the payroll with forgivable loans.
The program initially got $349 billion in funding as part of the CARES Act, but that money ran out on Thursday. The additional funding will expand that program, which proved not large enough to help all the businesses that needed it.
"There are still some more i's to dot and t's to cross, but we have a deal,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer announced in an interview on CNN’s "New Day."
Those in the trades, and other small businesses, will again be able to request funding. (Earlier: ServiceTitan’s tips for the application process.)
With millions of small businesses caught in the application pipeline, Democrats and Republicans argued over the addition of additional Coronavirus testing to the new funds, but those hurdles appear to have been overcome.
Meanwhile, the Small Business Association told about 8,000 of applicants for Economic Injury Disaster Loans that their personal information had been mistakenly leaked by a website glitch. EIDL is a separate relief measure within the CARES Act.
Links for the trades
Plumber Magazine: Add sanitation to your offerings during COVID-19 pandemic Key takeaway: Hot-jet cleaning and sanitizing has grown in popularity during the Coronavirus pandemic, causing many in the plumbing industry to add it to their offerings.
KMOX: Jerry Kelly Heating and Air matching gift cards for local businesses Key takeaway: Jerry Kelly Heating and Air in St. Charles, Mo., is supporting local small businesses by buying matching gift cards to local businesses to mirror those bought by the public. They are using marketing funds to support the community, and so far has received 300 requests.
PPP Program ‘Out of Money,’ SBA Announces; Negotiations Ongoing
The Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP), a $349-billion program of forgivable loans intended to keep employees of small businesses in the trades and elsewhere on the payroll, is out of money as of Thursday.
The Small Business Administration announced on its website that, because the limit of Congressional funding has been reached, applications are no longer being taken as of midday Thursday, and new lenders are not being enrolled.
Applications already in process could still be funded, and Congress was scheduled to resume negotiations on adding to the fund, part of a $2 billion emergency relief package established by the CARES Act, on Thursday.
A congressional source told ABC News on Wednesday night that the SBA has approved more than 1.5 million applications totaling more than $324 billion. The program ran out of money in less than two weeks, after launching April 3.
The program has been plagued with problems from the beginning, leaving small business owners frustrated and, in some cases, angry.
The Trump Administration wants an additional $250 billion for the program, but Democrats and Republicans have been unable to resolve disputes over the specifics. Democrats want changes to the rules that would allow credit unions and small community banks to participate. Republicans want to simply add the funding without making those changes.
Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin and Small Business Administration Administrator Jovita Carranza urged additions to the funding appropriation as soon as possible in a joint statement on Thursday.
"By law, the SBA will not be able to issue new loan approvals once the programs experience a lapse in appropriations," the statement said. “The high demand we have seen underscores the need for hardworking Americans to have access to relief as soon as possible. We want every eligible small business to participate and get the resources they need.”
Links for the Trades
ACHR News: Carrier releases product that could slow Coronavirus spread in hospitals Key takeaway: Carrier Global Corporation launched the OptiClean portable negative air machine, which cleans and removes air potentially contaminated by the virus using HEPA filters to significantly reduce the presence of coronavirus and other contaminants in the air, and flexible ducting to exhaust the filtered air.
Irving, Texas, HVAC company adds hazard pay for employees until May 1 Key takeaway: Reliant Air Conditioning in Irving, Texas, has announced a hazard pay increase of 15 percent through the end of May to thank employees for working during COVID-19 outbreak.
New PPP lenders, ways to cut costs, more in Monday’s COVID-19 links:
Key takeaway: ACHR News says cutting costs is like weeding a garden: If you haven’t done it in a while, now is the time, but don’t neglect fertilizer.
Key takeaway: Many firms are still struggling to apply for the money as they face technical glitches and confusion about lending terms. (Here’s ServiceTitan’s guidance for the trades, too.)
Key takeaway: Fintech companies have been lobbying for weeks for a seat at the Paycheck Protection Plan table, and Monday three of them were approved as lenders.
Updates from around the industry:
» More on small business loans: This week’s episode of The HVAC Jerks podcast explains what government programs are available to help small businesses survive and how to get them, as explained by the experts at HARDI.
» From EGIA: Their new Navigating Turbulent Times webinar series focuses on adapting to the ongoing crisis and challenges in business. The hub for that series, updated weekly with new virtual trainings and live “Ask the Experts” session recordings can be . The virtual training is for EGIA members, but the weekly each Wednesday morning is free.
» The CARES Act, Explained: How to navigate the small business loans within the CARES Act: How To Apply, What To Apply For First, FAQs.
» State by State action on Coronavirus — at a glance. (NCSL)
Paycheck Protection Program Rollout Sputters; One Bank Halts Request Acceptance
Mike Lousteau, general counsel for ServiceTitan, on a webinar hosted by the company on Thursday to use their normal bank, to eliminate the need for onboarding and other startup activities, and to apply quickly.
In the case of the customers of one bank, that movement without haste was particularly important.
Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks, through the CARES Act on Sunday when requests to the bank hit $10 billion. According to BusinessWire, the company was limited in its ability to serve customers by “an asset cap imposed by its regulator due to actions of past leadership.”
From the BusinessWire article:
“We are committed to helping our customers during these unprecedented and challenging times, but are restricted in our ability to serve as many customers as we would like under the PPP. While all businesses have been impacted by this crisis, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees and nonprofits often have fewer resources. Therefore, we are focusing our efforts under the Paycheck Protection Program on these groups,” said Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf.
The PPP, part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act relief package agreed to by Congress and signed by President Trump, was designed as a forgivable loan program to encourage companies with fewer than 500 employees to keep people on the payroll as the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the world. The program was to begin last Thursday at midnight, but .
That has made the rollout of the PPP lifeboat sputter so far. Funds were scheduled to be released starting at 12:01 a.m. on Friday. And with all but essential workers being instructed to stay home in many areas, job losses and economic uncertainty have staggered many.
Where Sunday’s move leaves Wells Fargo customers in the trades is unclear. The bank focused on and says loan requests received after Sunday won’t be considered. With many banks accepting applications only from current customers, Wells Fargo, which funded the most small business loans than any bank in the country in 2019, could be shutting out many customers who have not yet applied.
Other banks have struggled as well, including Bank of America, was slammed for offering PPP loans only to small business customers with business credit cards or loans, not simply checking accounts. They in response to customer concerns, and as of Sunday had accepted .
Small Business Association administrator Jovita Carranza , though, that more than 17,500 loans worth at least $5.4 billion have been given out. And if banks can’t handle the entire load, it’s possible .
Whatever the situation, if your home services company hasn’t yet applied for PPP relief, follow Lousteau’s advice and do it now.
If you have a home services company and would like to share your PPP loan experience, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using Zoom for meetings with your newly remote workforce? Beware hackers
Disable guest screen sharing.
Require the host to be present.
Keep your personal meeting ID private.
Use a password.
Require a waiting room.
Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Zoom asking about its data privacy and security practices, . The Times, which obtained a copy of the letter, said it expressed concerns about security issues “that could enable malicious third parties to, among other things, gain surreptitious access to consumer webcams.”
Other links and resources
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Johnson Controls institutes furloughs Key takeaway: Johnson Controls, which manufactures HVAC and other building control systems, is implementing two-week furloughs in May because of the financial challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Journal-Sentinel cited an anonymous employee not authorized to speak on behalf of the company.
KSL.com: ‘Essential’ businesses still seeing big changes in age of Coronavirus Key takeaway: In Salt Lake City, Dax Steenbergen, marketing coordinator for Whipple Service Champions, a 24/7 plumbing, heating and electrical company, says that although it has been business as usual so far, that could change in coming weeks.
Magazine encourages readers to ask about safety measures. Do you have an answer? Key takeaway: Does your home services company have a script for CSRs should customers ask what steps you are taking to keep them safe during your service visit to their home? Sarasota Magazine is among the publications before allowing a worker into their home.
CISA Updates ‘Essential’ List To Include Plumbing and Mechanical Supply Chains
The U.S. government on Tuesday fortified the supply chain for HVAC companies, plumbers, electricians and others in the trades by adding those workers to the list of “essential” businesses.
The move protects those who provide supplies and equipment for the skilled trades, which were previously part of the list.
While the Cyberstructure and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the Department of Homeland Security, notes that most if not all of the areas that have instituted “safer at home” or “shelter in place” orders .
“This is big news not only for IAPMO, but the entire plumbing and mechanical industry,” IAPMO CEO GP Russ Chaney said. “By explicitly citing the entire supply chain for plumbing products as essential, the federal government has clarified how important each facet of the industry is, from manufacturer to distributor to plumber.”
Infrared thermometers from HVAC supplier help Coronavirus fight
“We needed a quick and reliable way to measure people’s temperature, but no one could find the thermometers,” said Lake County Commissioner John Hamercheck. “I refused to give up and found 123 infrared thermometers in the warehouse of an old supplier of mine who is in the HVAC business.”
He found another 98 at another supplier, giving the county 221 in all.
“The beauty of these thermometers is that they allow you to take someone’s temperature but never actually have to come into physical contact with them,” Jason Wuliger, president of , told the newspaper. “They also provide a nearly instantaneous result. Having these in the county toolbox is a great step forward.”
Top industry links for Tuesday
ACHR News: Tips for transitioning an HVAC company to remote work amid Coronavirus Key takeaway: Tips for helping employees accustomed to working from an office adjust, finding new ways to communicate effectively, cultivating company culture in a remote setting and more.
ACHR News: Clear Seas Research provides snapshot of HVAC industry concerns Key takeaway: Respondents to a Clear Seas Research Survey are most worried about the current economy and achieving business goals in the next six months, given the COVID-19 outbreak. Respondents report a drop in new business development activity.
After Tesla and SpaceX, you’ll never guess what Elon Musk wants to revolutionize next Key takeaway: Elon Musk has begun tackling electric cars and private space flight. Now he wants to revolutionize HVAC systems, . Specifically, he wants them to be quieter and more efficient. The units would be based on the same technology as the heat pump in the Model Y Tesla.
Water Trade Association: Industry ‘assured broadly’ it’s essential Key takeaway: The Water Quality Association is working with states that have issued Shelter-in-Place directives to their residents. The WQA says its has been assured that, broadly, water treatment products and services fit within the category of designated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which are allowed to remain open for business due to their role in safeguarding America’s drinking water.
HVAC School releases a guide to business during Coronavirus outbreak Key takeaway: With the world’s understanding of the outbreak evolving, will update as new information becomes available. The best resource for general information regarding prevention and care is available at the .
Goettl Air Conditioning and Plumbing making big gift to employees Key takeaway: Goettl CEO Ken Goodrich is installing in the homes of employees to thank them for their dedication and hard work. More than 600 employees in the Southwest will get UV germicidal lights.
Google offers five guiding principles for marketing during the Coronavirus outbreak Key takeaway: Google shares five principles developed internally to evaluate media campaigns during the Coronavirus pandemic. The company’s global VP for Media, Joshua Spanier, shares the five and explains how the company uses them.
Google pauses reviews amid Coronavirus outbreak
The reviews should be posted when the situation normalizes and the reviews can be properly handled by Google. Other review platforms have not followed suit.
Key takeaway: While contractors want access to financing to get through this period, it carries risk. Many common contractor corporate structures, such as S-corps, put the owner’s personal finances on the hook in the event of a loan’s failure.
Tips for the trades on staying safe
Beyond the usual tips, some of our favorites applicable to home services companies:
Notify your employer if a family member is sick or experiencing symptoms, someone you have been in contact with becomes sick or tests positive, so that protocols for informing others in the business can be followed.
It’s OK to inquire if anyone at a dispatched job site has recently been sick or symptomatic, and reschedule appointments that are not urgent. Take time to let customers know you are well (and, we’d add, about precautions you are taking).
Limit contact with customers to a minimum. Touch only what you must to complete the job.
Booties and gloves are recommended when entering residences.
Take time to wipe down mobile devices, tools and surfaces in homes and in your service vehicle.
Which states have ‘safer at home’ orders? This has details, and a pulldown lets you select your state for specific rules. The trades have been ruled essential businesses and may remain in operation in most if not all areas.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, and has provided further detailed guidance on identifying essential critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
Broadly, DHS included as "essential" all the roles workers in the water treatment industry play in delivering clean, safe water — including technical professionals, service providers, product installers, repair and parts replacement workers and supporting operations workers.
The Water Quality Association is reaching out to governors' offices across the country and has received direct commitments from several state governments recognizing the essential work of our industry. In addition, Home Depot, Lowes, Ace Hardware and True Value have stated to customers that they all consider water treatment as "essential."
Trades exempted as New York, Illinois join California under ‘safer at home’ order
California expanded a to the entire state Thursday night, but electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians and many other tradesmen were on the list of exempted businesses because of their role in protecting public health and safety.
“Staying in our residences, being aggressive about hygiene, and practicing safe social distancing are the most effective ways to protect ourselves, the people we love, and everyone in our community,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a release announcing that city’s move. “Each one of us is a first-responder in this crisis.”
New York joined California in the safer at home order on Friday morning. Friday afternoon, Gov. J.B. Pritzger announced on Saturday. Such orders were originally referred to as “shelter in place,” but states are finding that that phrase alarms citizens. They do not constitute a total lockdown, as has been seen in China and Italy.
“We need everyone to be safe, or no one can be safe,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a news conference.
While “100 percent” of the workforce was included in the New York order, essential services such as those performed by the trades are exempted. The expectation is that order will be standard for states that issue such orders.
Dealing with the outbreak, trade style: Every business is challenged by the limitations posed by the COVID-19 outbreak, even those whose services are on the exempt list. ACHR News asked those in the HVAC industry .
In an email to ACHR News, Sarah Moscatello, owner of The Heat Pump Store in Portland, Ore., summed up her experience.
“I have to deal with a weird thing that I've never had to deal with, which is the coronavirus and how to communicate to my staff and my customers what we're doing to be prepared,” Moscatello said. “And it's just a very strange thing. It's coming down on everybody, and we’re feeling the weight of it.”
What can your business do? , attended by more than 500 participants, Jason Schlunt, CEO of Bellows Plumbing, Heating & Air in the San Francisco area answered questions about operating a home services business during the outbreak. Read the key takeaways from that webinar .
Federal tax filing deadline delayed: The , for both individuals and businesses, has been delayed until July 15. Returns can still be filed earlier, but won’t accrue interest or penalties until the new date.
ACCA manager calls on HVAC pros to be ‘a beacon of truth’ during Coronavirus
Matt Akins, the manager of HVACR education for Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), has encouraging HVAC professionals to be “a beacon of truth and good faith” when it comes to educating customers during the Coronavirus outbreak.
That’s good advice. HVAC companies (and those in all the trades) build their reputation over the years and grow trust by educating customers. Destroying that trust for what we all hope will be a short-term problem with COVID-19 would be incredibly short-sighted.
But what does being a beacon of truth look like? According to Atkins, contractors should educate clients on indoor air quality and the Coronavirus by telling them:
Source control is the first step. Customers should be advised to follow CDC guidelines on social distancing, handwashing, covering the nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, etc. Same as with odor, mold or other contaminants — any virus within a residence or business is your virus. It won’t come from an external airborne source, or from the factory.
The air can spread contaminants. Viruses, including Coronavirus, as well as fungi, mold and bacteria can be spread through the air. Viruses, though, making it difficult for a standard air filter to catch them.
An HVAC system can allow biological contaminants to thrive. Your unit can provide the food (through skin cells in the system), moisture and the absences of ultraviolet light.
An ultraviolet system will not, by itself, keep your home virus- or mold-free. A limited “kill zone” can limit its effectiveness. Viruses can be particularly resistant, or not. And according to ASHRAE, the reduction level for viruses .
But an ultraviolet light system can be part of the answer, combined with proper hygiene, social distancing and improved indoor air quality. With customers frightened by Coronavirus, HVAC companies can shine a light, ultraviolet or otherwise, on the facts of .
Federal relief coming for small businesses, individuals
Here’s the link to the Small Business Administration’s Coronavirus loans page.
According to CNBC, the relief package could be worth over $1 trillion and include up to $550 in direct payments or tax cuts, up to $300 billion in small business assistance, up to $100 billion in airline and industry relief, and for making direct payments to Americans.
Trades exempted from ‘shelter in place’
Seven counties around San Francisco ordered residents to shelter in place for three weeks, and they started doing so on Monday. A list published by the includes home services companies among those who are exempt from the order.
Specifically, that includes “plumbers, electricians, exterminators, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining safety and sanitation.” Also exempt is the supply chain, which the Times refers to as “businesses that supply other essential businesses with the support or supplies necessary to operate.”
Business impact: Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney expressed concern about the ability of small businesses in the city to withstand the impact of Coronavirus on its own, The Philadelphia Business Journal reported.
The city, and the states of , have ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses for two weeks. At a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Kinney to those taken during the Great Depression and World War II. And Philadelphia Managing Director Brian Abernathy got right to the point.
Reminder on recognizing the symptoms of Coronavirus:
Difficulty breathing (severe cases)
Hope for a vaccine? The first started on Monday, but widespread implementation could take 12-18 months. of the possible vaccine, the beginning of a long process to prove the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. China vaccine trials.
Key takeaway: common sense still reigns supreme. Plumbers are advised to increase the frequency of hand washing and wash for at least 20 seconds with soap and water (even longer hand washing time is good practice after contact with wastewater); avoid touching of the face; cover any open cuts or wounds and wear proper PPE. If you personally come into close proximity, or into direct contact with an infected person, immediately report the incident to your supervisor and to your doctor or healthcare provider.
Coronavirus prompts response in HVAC industry (ACHR News)
Key takeaway: For concerned clients, the priority will be keeping their employees, their facilities, and their families safe. Contractors should be aware of what the available technologies are and represent them in an honest and transparent way while noting that disease prevention cannot be solved by HVAC alone.
If you have story ideas or questions, you can email us. We’d love to tell your story about how you’re helping in your community or dealing with these uncertain times, or just help answer your questions.
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