April 17, 2020

COVID-19 Update

From all appearances, the spring season is off to a speedy start in most areas of the country.  Because the fertilizer industry is designated as essential to our nation’s economy, despite the pandemic, you and your colleagues are hard at work, doing what you do best, making sure that growers have nutrients and advice necessary to grow healthy crops. We thank you for this and for all the rest that you do to keep agriculture’s engine running.

While TFI’s work is different, we have also been busy on your behalf. While we are regularly posting the information below on our COVID-19 resource page, there are several developments that deserve your attention.

Considerations for Re-Opening the Economy

Yesterday, the White House released guidance titled: “Guidelines: Opening Up America Again.”  The guidance outlines a three-phase plan for opening-up the U.S. economy, where the restrictions on personal movement and gatherings are lessened progressively based upon the incidence rate of COVID-19 infections.  There are directions for individuals and employers for each of the phases.  We will be seeking member feedback during a Government Affairs Committee conference call, scheduled for this coming Monday, April 20. For additional information on Committee discussion, please contact TFI Vice President of Public Policy, Andy O’Hare.

It is increasingly clear that returning to work will be gradual, phased-in, and will vary by factors such as location, sector, and the health status of workers. It also will require continued social distancing, expanded use of personal protective equipment, and other counter-measures.  The business community must begin preparing now for new processes, requirements, or restrictions for which there is no playbook or precedent. To jump start this conversation, our partners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce released guidance on “Implementing a National Return to Work Plan.” The Chamber’s document covers essential services and resources, resolution of legal liability issues, and necessary support for businesses and individuals.

Essential Workers: Guidance and Testing Resources

We were asked to join the National Safety Council in urging the federal government to provide COVID-19 testing resources to employers that are engaged in essential business services. The letter, sent to Vice President Pence, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Peter Gaynor, pointed out that increased access to COVID-19 testing for this workforce will help flatten the curve by removing people with coronavirus from the workplace and better ensure the safety and health of employees who are maintaining operations during this pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued guidance on safety practices for critical infrastructure workers who may have had exposure to a person with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.” At the same time, the CDC also issued a separate “exposure dos and don’ts,” guidance for workers in essential industries.

OSHA Calls for Discretion in Enforcement

This morning, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a Memorandum on Discretion in Enforcement when Considering an Employer’s Good Faith Efforts During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic, which will take effect immediately and remain in effect until further notice.  In its announcement, OSHA says, “With the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, OSHA understands that some employers may face difficulties complying with OSHA standards due to the ongoing health emergency.  Widespread business closures, restrictions on travel, limitations on group sizes, facility visitor prohibitions, and stay-at-home or shelter-in-place requirements may limit the availability of employees, consultants, or contractors who normally provide training, auditing, equipment inspections, testing, and other essential safety and industrial hygiene services.  During the course of an inspection, OSHA Area Offices will assess an employer’s efforts to comply with standards that require annual or recurring audits, reviews, training, or assessments, and evaluate whether the employer has made good faith efforts to comply with applicable OSHA standards and, in situations where compliance was not possible, to ensure that employees were not exposed to hazards from tasks, processes, or equipment for which they were not prepared or trained.  The guidance is intended to be time-limited to the current public health crisis.” The OSHA memorandum in its entirety contains additional detail on these provisions.  For more information about COVID -19 please visit OSHA’s COVID-19 webpage and CDC’s COVID-19 webpage.

Request that CDL Hazmat Endorsements be Extended

In our business, maintaining uninterrupted transportation service is crucial, and we have concerns about the potential detrimental impact of inconsistent extensions of Commercial Drivers’ License Hazardous Material Endorsement (HME) by various states’ governments during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to Anne Ferro, president and CEO of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, we urge all state administrators to take the necessary action to adopt and implement a temporary extension of Hazardous Material Endorsement (HME) holders as permitted in a recent notice by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Transportation Security Administration.
White House Advisory Panel Members are Named

On Wednesday, the White House announced members of 17 separate “Great American Economic Revival Industry Groups,” aimed at working with the White House to chart the path forward for U.S. business in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. You will note familiar names, including American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duval in the agriculture group, in many of the sector-specific committees.

Call for New Funds for Paycheck Protection Program

In just a few weeks, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has emerged as a central and effective response to the economic damage resulting from COVID-19. According to the Small Business Administration, however, banks have already committed all the $349 billion provided to capitalize the PPP, leaving millions of additional businesses without the funds necessary to keep their workers employed. In a letter to House and Senate leadership we request that Congress act expeditiously to assure that the PPP will have the resources it needs to sustain America’s small business economy through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our mailing address is:  tfinews@tfi.org