The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce – working with Boston-area CEOs, its Executive Committee, Board of Directors, and hundreds of other members – developed an agenda for an economic reopening that outlines the information employers and employees need from government, what’s needed to tackle the barriers to reopening, and how businesses will work together.
Provide Public Information
The return to work depends on loosening restrictions, so the state should announce the criteria necessary for economic reopening. Most other states in the multi-state regional compact have done this. For example, New York state has 12 criteria that a region must meet prior to an economic reopening including a 14-day decline in COVID-19 hospitalization rates.
The state should also announce its phased reopening plan on Friday, May 8, to allow businesses and employees at least 10 days to prepare before the potential expiration of the essential services order. This public information should include:
- Details on the May 18/first economic reopening phase, including what data-based criteria the state must meet and what activities will be permitted and under what conditions.
- Target criteria or dates for additional reopening phases, including what activities are expected to be permitted and under what conditions.
Address the Barriers to Reopening
Businesses identified three major barriers to economic reopening: testing, childcare, and transportation.
- A rapid increase and expansion in both diagnostic and antibody testing is a top priority for all businesses. Massachusetts should have a statewide goal to test anyone, anytime meaning that anyone can get a test, at any time they want one. By May 18, the state should detail what it will take to reach that goal, including but not limited to costs and the capacity necessary to manufacture, administer, and analyze tests.
- The state should aim to reopen childcare centers by June 1, 2020. It should detail what restrictions will be in place, what precautions providers should implement, and provide guidance on capacity so the providers can communicate with existing clients. Given that capacity may be limited, the state may need to plan for creating alternative or additional childcare, including resources for older children who would have participated in camps, summer school, or other activities.
- The MBTA carried over a million riders each day and social distancing will change that. In addition to its plan for implementing social distancing, the state should announce changes to the MBTA’s capacity. This would include information on planned service frequency for bus, train, and commuter rail lines and maximum passengers permitted on each type of service.
Guide Rather than Regulate and Let Business Build Consensus
Businesses also highlighted concerns about liability. While some liability exposure should be dealt with federally, clear guidance can mitigate concerns. Like many other aspects of the reopening, businesses urge government to rely on guidance rather than regulation, including with standards related to public health. This will allow individual employers to lead with their employees in the way that’s appropriate for them and provide flexibility that allows them to adapt to both the future and a dynamic situation.
Let business take a unified approach that’s guided but not regulated by the government.
Businesses already are organizing a unified reopening response, and they will be better prepared with information on criteria for reopening and plans for testing, childcare, and transportation. Major employers are looking to build consensus among themselves on things like when and how employees return to physical workspaces, adjusting to new building layouts and procedures, procuring PPE, and training employees for the new workspace. They’re also thinking about how their decisions will impact small businesses near their offices.
A unified response from business, combined with information and guidance from government, will put Massachusetts on a path forward for a strong economic reopening.