Feeding the family is just one of the many parenting challenges taking on a new dimension as we navigate the constant changes to our daily lives brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond the question of whether a particular store has the grocery item you need, there’s a very real fear of how to safely shop and safely bring those items into your home.
At this point, there are probably three options for getting groceries — getting them delivered, picking up a prepacked order or going shopping yourself — and the experts offer specific tips related to each option.
For starters, if you are using a delivery service like Instacart or Amazon Prime Now, have your items left on the doorstep or nearby. Instacart recently added this as a choice, according to a March article by Consumer Reports. Other services allow you to do this too. Just be sure to select the option at the time you place your order.
Tip electronically too, so you do not have to hand the delivery person money. And, place your order sooner than you would typically do so, as all delivery services are experiencing much higher than normal volumes. In fact, last week Amazon temporarily shut down Amazon Prime Pantry due to coronavirus demand, according to published reports.
A March 19 Good Housekeeping article recommends washing your hands before and after you pick up the groceries, although researchers say the risk of getting the virus from surfaces is low.
If you are picking up an order packaged for you by a grocery store employee, consider opening up your trunk for the person loading the order into your car, Consumer Reports suggests. About 3,000 Walmarts offer this service nationally, Consumer Reports says.
When grocery shopping yourself, try to go when it’s less busy and do your best to employ social distancing practices, keeping about 6 feet away from other people in the store, recommends Good Housekeeping. Bring sanitizing wipes with you so you can clean the handles of any shopping carts or baskets you intend to use. Just like any other situation, avoid touching your face, eyes and nose. As soon as you go through checkout, use hand sanitizer.
Once you have put all your groceries away, Good Housekeeping recommends disinfecting all surfaces the bags have touched.
Four more counties, including Cumberland and Dauphin have been given stay at home orders until April 30, and Pennsylvania’s schools and non-life-sustaining businesses are to stay closed until further notice, Gov. Tom Wolf said during a press conference on Monday.
Residents of Carbon, Cumberland, Dauphin and Schuylkill counties will be joining the state’s 22 counties already covered by the order, which has been expanding as positive cases of COVID-19 continue to.
“If you are living in one of the 26 counties in my stay at home order, you should only leave your house if it is absolutely necessary,” Wolf said.
Wolf also announced that Pennsylvania schools and non-life-sustaining businesses will remain closed until further notice. Previously Wolf had suspended operations for the entities for two weeks.
“Our business and school closures will no longer have a set date to resume operations,” Wolf said. “I am going to leave the date indefinite. We will keep our schools and businesses as long as we need to keep them closed.”
While the stay-at-home orders were previously set to end on April 6, Wolf said that he is extending the order until April 30, to coincide with President Donald Trump’s extension of the country’s social distancing guidelines to the same date.
On Saturday, Wolf announced that Beaver, Centre and Washington counties would be added to the list.
The 26 counties now included in the Governor’s order include: Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Butler, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Schuylkill, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland and York counties.
As of Monday afternoon, Pennsylvania’s positive cases of COVID-19 are at 4,087.
Like many employers, John Bailey of Bailey Coach in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, didn’t make too much of the coronavirus when he started hearing of the first reports of cases in January.
Anticipating a supply chain pinch, Bailey told his maintenance staff to stock up on materials for the company’s auto shop and start looking for alternative sources.
“I told my maintenance staff that any part that comes from China that we have, I said order all the parts now, anything you need, order it now — tires, belts, brakes — so we have them in our shop,” Bailey said.
It was a prudent call, as auto-shop services were permitted to continue operations under government-mandated closure of non-life-sustaining operations. But bus service largely relies on the now imperiled airline industry for customers.
Cancellations started coming in March and the week before last government and health officials were ordering non-essential and non-life-sustaining businesses to suspend operations. Suddenly, Bailey found himself having to lay off a 55-person crew, save for himself, his daughter and a couple of members of his shop staff.
“I sat at my desk and asked ‘Lord, what can I do to continue to pay the bills?’” Bailey said. That’s when he noticed the bottle of disinfectant he routinely used to sanitize his buses.
“We’ve been using that thing since 2017, and it’s got no ill effects on anything, and I decided I’m going to offer some services,” he said.
The pH-neutral solution comes from JKDS Solutions of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, a company Bailey has worked with for three years.
Josh Cook, national sales executive for JKDS Solutions, said the disinfectant solution is 300 times more powerful than bleach, but its pH is neutral, making it safer for human contact but less popular in retail markets because of its shorter shelf life.
“Going to the Atlantic City casinos with a bus full of people, doing all the stuff they do, he [Bailey] realized this is really something that helps him out,” Cook said. “Now that he’s offering it as a service, and I think it’s really cool.”
Demand for sanitization has been booming with private industry and government institutions alike, Bailey said. At a rate of “15,000 square feet in approximately 30 minutes,” Bailey said his company serviced 19 locations for a combined total of 450,000 square feet the weekend before last. And his skeletal crew — of him, his daughter, two full-time sprayers and a shop staff — is growing.
Bailey said he called back one of his furloughed workers to handle scheduling. During an interview Thursday, Bailey eagerly awaited to hear about whether a prospective employee was joining the team. Halfway through the interview, he received confirmation that another employee agreed to join the team as a sprayer.
Liz Johnides, co-owner of York County’s Markets at Hanover, said she’s been using Bailey Coach’s new service on a weekly basis to treat her 52,000-square-foot indoor farmers market.
When the order to temporarily but indefinitely cease non-life-sustaining business operations came two weeks ago, it closed roughly half of merchants, many of whom were gift shop vendors. Now, the market is left with four of nine food court merchants, she said.
“But we have a number of businesses that are life-sustaining — butcher, cheese, bakery — but we also have a number of gift vendors that are not life-sustaining,” she said.
This shift has forced the craft sellers to adapt to the world of online retail or lose business, she said, while the food vendors use a grab-and-go model of service.
“One of the things I recognized was that our customers are very aware of social distancing. We already have protocols on site for how we sanitize the site on a regular basis, especially during flu season,” she said.
“We bring him in once a week to disinfect market area, bathrooms and offices,” Johnides said. “I think it’s just a way of saying we are taking extra precautions and we are adding a level of safeguard for the public.”
Bailey said events like the COVID-19 outbreak force entrepreneurs like him to distinguish wants from needs. “You figure out what is a want really quick and they go by the wayside, and now you have your needs.”
Diversifying his businesses has allowed him to pay the bills and preserve his business for a post-COVID-19 economy, Bailey said. The bus company isn’t just a bus company; it also performs inspections, it’s a warranty center for a bus company based in Basque, Spain, and most recently it just got its dealers license for businesses in Pennsylvania.
“Other people should look at trying to diversify,” Bailey said. “I want to be an octopus; I want to have my tentacles in everything. I have ongoing overhead expenses, I have bills to pay. What this is allowing me to do is at least generate some income so I can cover the essentials.”
A Hershey-based startup developing continuously cleaning surfaces for hospitals is growing its outreach to the area’s life-sustaining businesses.
AIONX Antimicrobial Technologies began offering the most recent version of its adhesive covers to hospital systems last year and has shifted its focus as businesses still operating from brick-and-mortar buildings look for how to best keep their clients and employees safe from the spread of COVID-19
The adhesive covers, known as cleanSURFACES, are continuously cleaning surfaces powered with a small electrical current. When something touches the surface, it releases copper and silver ions that kill up to 97% of bacteria, fungi or viruses, according to AIONX.
While the surfaces aren’t an alternative to soap and water, they are able to consistently clean surfaces that would normally be contaminated after someone else touched them, said Dr. Alexander Shope, chief medical officer at AIONX.
“Maybe you wipe your surface off, someone comes into that room and sneezes and whatever they coughed lands on our technology,” Shope said. “It will immediately kill the pathogens that landed on it and you weren’t even around to clean it.”
Anything that touches the surface of AIONX’s product is effected by the ions it releases, meaning that it can disinfect everything from hands and car keys to phones and medical equipment.
Shope said the electrical charge and the ions released from the surface are strong enough to kill bacteria and viruses on the objects it touches, but not strong enough to effect other technology or be felt by a human hand.
The surfaces can also be wiped down and have other chemicals on it. Shope said he has seen the product used at personal workspaces under someone’s computer as well as at help desks in order to stop the spread of bacteria or viruses on surfaces touched by many people.
As a small startup, AIONX needed to initially focus on an industry that it thought could best use the technology and chose hospitals, said Shope. But with the outpour of people looking for ways they can halt the spread of COVID-19, he said it was important that the company markets to all types of businesses.
“We thought it was vital to help businesses that have to stay open and we thought it was important to reach out and make them aware of the product,” he said.
CleanSURFACES lasts for approximately 30 days in a commercial setting before it needs to be replaced.
Currently the company has found interest for the product in primary care offices, retirement communities, laboratories, small businesses, residential homes and Juniata College.
With restaurants and other hospitality businesses facing some of the earliest and largest financial losses from COVID-19, one local company established an online resource to help raise more than $200 million for them.
Shift4 Payments, an integrated payment processing solutions company in Hanover Township, Lehigh County, launched Shift4Cares.com, an online resource for government agencies, news outlets and businesses affected by COVID-19. The website offers information on the economic impact of this pandemic and is part of Shift4’s plan to raise more than $200 million nationwide for restaurants and other small businesses — including up to $10 million contributed directly from the company through a gift card initiative.
Consumers can go to Shift4Cares.com to buy gift cards for their favorite local restaurants and other businesses to provide their favorite establishments with much needed revenue during this difficult time, said Terry Sullivan, chief of staff for Shift4 Payments. For every gift card purchased through the site, Shift4 Payments will contribute an additional 5% to the business — up to $10 million. For example, a $100 gift card purchase on the site would result in $105 for the merchant.
“We are doing what we can to raise awareness,” Sullivan said. “We specialize in hospitality, which is really restaurants and hotels. The pandemic is really having an impact. We are seeing a tremendous decline in payment volumes.”
While the impact is national, Pennsylvania is among those hardest hit.
The states leading the declines are California (91%), Pennsylvania (89%), Texas (89%) and New York (88%). Nationally, restaurant transactions declined from 42 million to 11 million during this time, while hotel transactions declined from 144 million to 20 million.
Data on the site for the last seven days shows that hospitality industry transactions are down significantly when compared to the week of Feb. 2, with restaurant transactions down 74%, hotels down 86% and all other industries down 64%.
Nationwide and state-by-state data is available at Shift4Cares.com.
“We’ve been going through this data and we are seeing how substantial that is,” Sullivan said. “This is just a way to help our customers, our businesses across the country to get much-needed revenue.”
Shift4 Payments also waived many processing fees for its clients, including the fee for the device used for curbside delivery and online orders, he said.
Shift4 processes more than 3.5 billion transactions annually for more than 200,000 businesses nationwide, representing more than $200 billion in payments each year.
When the governor encouraged Pennsylvanians to stay at home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, people swiftly headed to area grocery stores to stock up.
Faced with a two week quarantine at home, shoppers hoarded toilet paper, eggs, bread and meat. While a snowstorm might cause some panic-buying, this was on another level.
I stopped at my local Redner’s Market for chicken, only to find the chicken aisle bare. Cleaned out. Not a breast. Not a thigh. Not a chicken wing to be found.
“It is across all stores,” said Eric White, director of marketing for Reading-based Redner’s Markets, which is an independent chain of supermarkets with locations throughout Pennsylvania. “We are experiencing challenges with distribution and supply.”
While the amount of food available was adequate for a normal week, when customers flooded stores last week the regular supply was quickly diminished. To stop the hoarding, Redner’s is allowing store managers to set limits on the number of items customers can buy of certain foods, like toilet paper or meat.
“We are getting regular shipments of beef, baking items, and bread, but we can’t get it on the shelves fast enough,” said White. “We are getting four times the normal buying traffic, and replenishing product and trying to get ahead is challenging.”
Under normal operating conditions there would be enough food on the shelves, but when customers over-buy items, it drains inventory and warehouses and supermarkets have to catch up. There is no food shortage, it is that the customers are over-buying.
“It’s not at the level of last week now,” White said. “It is slowing down. And we are putting limits in place. It’s all hands on deck and we are doing our best to get the food on the shelves.”
White also said that due to the massive buy out of certain items like eggs, there have been commodity price shifts. “The price of eggs jumped over 200 percent,” he said.
“We understand the burdens placed on the stores,” White added. “We understand the guests’ fears.”
Redner’s is reducing store hours and closing earlier every day to restock items and clean and sanitize the store. The chain is also giving all store employees $2-an-hour raises until the crisis passes.
“All praise goes to our store folks,” White said. “They have been positive and up for the challenge. They are going about their business. We could not be more proud.”
No matter where you go to consume news, you will be bombarded by anything and everything related to COVID-19. The impact of this novel virus on our world is impossible to fully understand or appreciate at this time. The term “unchartered water” is being used quite frequently and it couldn’t be more accurate.
Every industry is wondering how this will impact their business, both immediately and long-term. The simple truth is that no one really knows right now. The best we can do is look to history to see how the world has reacted to similar pandemics, economic crisis, and panic. Though the world has not seen a virus causing a global shut down like we are seeing with COVID-19, we can anticipate the significant changes we may expect to see take right here in Pennsylvania. Here’s how commercial real estate is getting pulled into the fold.
Economic Uncertainty. With so much uncertainty in the stock market these last few days, people get nervous. Talk to anyone working in the financial services industry, and he or she will tell you that most of their time right now is spent talking people off the ledge of making panicked decisions. And their fear is not unfounded. After all, trillions of dollars in paper wealth have essentially evaporated.
As people watch their diminishing 401K balances, they feel rightfully uncertain. And if such uncertainty causes consumers to hit the pause button on spending, a ripple effect is bound to take place. When attendees avoid concerts, sporting events, movies, or restaurants, businesses suffer a decline in sales. Operations who supply these enterprises, such as the trucking, food, linens, security, novelties industries then feel the pinch as the ripples become waves of lost revenue. How does this relate back to commercial real estate? All of these businesses rent or own commercial real estate, meaning CRE gets pulled into the downward spiral.
Supply chain disruption. Here are the facts (changing daily), steel production is down 90% in China. Auto sales in Asia is down 95%. One of the Port of LA’s largest exports is auto parts. Couple these factors with the typical container cancellations during the Chinese New Year and you create an immense lag in product delivery which will ripple out to impact just about every other industry imaginable.
Whole industries have come to a sudden halt. Hotels, restaurants, construction businesses, retail stores – and this is hardly scratching the surface of the businesses across the Commonwealth mandated to shutter their businesses for at least two weeks – likely more. The ripple effect this will have immediately and well into the future is near impossible to quantify. It’s not unlikely that some businesses may fold as a result. If such businesses owned or rented commercial real estate, this is space that will be vacated. Additionally, a lull in new construction will decrease the amount of new space delivered to the market at least through 2020.
Interest rates. There is much conversation and reason to believe that we will soon see more favorable interest rates, making commercial real estate financing more affordable. The reason is that mass stock market sell offs will generate proceeds which must be invested. Typically, a safe harbor for this cash is short term instruments such as Treasuries. However, this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. On March 3rd, The Federal Reserve lowered the federal funds rate by ½ of one percent which was met with much applause. The truth is that this is irrelevant. The federal funds rate refers to the interest rate that banks charge other banks for lending them money from their reserve balances on an overnight basis. The hard truth is that the federal funds rate has no impact on ten-year treasury yields.
The Silver Lining – Despite the doom and gloom being predicted for many industries as the result of the spread of COVID-19, there are (at least) three reasons why commercial real estate should look to the silver lining in all of this. Here’s what they are.
#1. Some stock market investors fleeing the equity markets may choose to start investing in real estate. Why wouldn’t they invest in CRE? After the rapid downturn that’s transpired in the last few weeks, it only seems logical that some would say enough is enough I’m going to pull my money out of the stock market and invest it in a lower risk type of investment.
#2. Treasury rates have hit historic lows. On March 9th, the ten-year treasury bottomed out at 0.569%, rising to 0.981% by Friday, March 13. For comparison, a year ago, the ten-year treasury closed at 2.592% so the decline has been dramatic to state the obvious. Those of us who have debt, whether it is a home loan or loans on our rental properties, are going to benefit by refinancing debt with significantly lower interest rates.
#3. If there is increased demand for CRE and interest rates remain low, the logical result will be that capitalization rates will continue to compress even further than they are right now. This means that even if a real estate investor doesn’t refinance his rental properties, the value of his real estate will still go up as cap rates continue to compress. So bottom line is that those of us who have invested in commercial real estate will inadvertently benefit from this black swan event.
#4. It’s now a tenant’s market. The speed at which the market shifted from a landlord’s market to a tenant’s market can hardly be overstated. COVID-19 has effectively caused a collapse of U.S. office demand, which ironically comes after the market set a post-recession record just last year. For tenants who are hunting for new office, retail, or industrial space, chances are you’re going to be able to negotiate favorable terms and pricing.
In trying and changing times like these, I am very glad I chose to be an exclusive tenant agent representative/buyer’s agent for commercial real estate. I can still be an asset to my clients, whereas other forms of brokerage are more greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this historic time, I can serve my clients through subleasing, lease restructuring, and negotiating better deals based on current market conditions.
About the Author: Mike Kushner, CCIM has 28 years of experience in commercial real estate. He is the owner of Omni Realty Group, Harrisburg’s only exclusive Tenant Representation/Buyer Agency Brokerage and Real Estate Advisory Firm. Learn more at http://www.omnirealtygroup.com.
Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign a bill on Friday that would deposit $50 million in transferred state funding to be used for medical equipment and supplies by the state’s health care providers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both the Pennsylvania Senate and House approved House Bill 1232 on Wednesday and are now awaiting approval from the governor. The bill would give the state additional funds for emergency equipment used in COVID-19 cases if the funds provided by the state’s disaster proclamation run dry.
“The legislation allowing this use of funding was one of our top priorities this week. Legislators in both parties pulled together to pass it,” said House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny and Westmoreland). “Pennsylvania’s heroic medical workers are in the thick of a life-and-death battle and we have to make sure they have the tools to carry on the fight for everyone’s good.”
If approved by Wolf tomorrow, the bill would allow the state to place the $50 million into a restricted account under the governor’s jurisdiction. If needed, the funds would be given to hospitals, nursing homes and emergency workers in need of medical equipment related to treating or preventing COVID-19.
“We need more beds, more ventilators, more personal protective equipment and so much more and we need it as soon as possible because the virus is here,” Wolf said. “I am working to get this funding moving as quickly as I can. We need to do everything we can to support our front-line medical workers to protect them and ensure they have the equipment to care for patients. This funding is a step in the right direction.”
This week the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion aid package that the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on this Friday. The “Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARE) Act” would provide $130 billion to hospitals nationwide currently battling the pandemic.
The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic can be especially taxing for health care workers, so the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania is offering the following tips to help health care workers unwind and recharge when they are off duty.
Take care of your body by eating healthy meals, exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep and staying home if you are sick.
Remember to rest, unwind and do activities that you enjoy during your time off. Keep in touch with family and friends and take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
Take care of your gear. Remove scrub attire prior to leaving the hospital and sanitize items that were used while at work, including cell phone, handbag, laptops, and stethoscope.
Leave your shoes at the door.
Change your clothes.
Shower using the hottest water possible.
According to the HAP, some family, friends and others may react negatively to health care workers fearing they have been exposed to the coronavirus.
Health care workers can help ease those fears by reminding people that safe and appropriate precautions are being taken to protect everyone while they are at work.
To help reduce the stigma towards health care workers and others right now due to the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has published a guide which can be read here.
Nationally, unemployment claims are also breaking records.
The U.S. Department of labor is reporting that initial jobless claims hit 3.28 million for the week ended March 21. That’s the highest number of weekly claims since the DOL began tracking numbers in the 1960s.
Midstate businesses could have a lot to gain from the Senate’s proposed $2 trillion stimulus bill if it becomes a law in the coming weeks.
Businesses across the country are waiting for the United States Senate to vote on a bill that would provide billions of dollars to both small and large operations— an opportunity that David Black, CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC, said could be a huge step to cover losses for area businesses impacted by statewide closures.
The spread of coronavirus and Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure of businesses deemed non-essential has already dealt a blow to area businesses, including the region’s large tourism industry, he said.
“Cash flow has stopped—it’s just not going,” said Black, noting that the Senate’s bill could be the help businesses need. “The purpose of the business loan component of this is to try and soften that blow, perhaps replace it with a loan but we haven’t seen the language.”
The stimulus is an unprecedented amount of money but it will be difficult to understand how many businesses will receive funds through the bill until the government begins the process, said Black.
Currently the plan is to provide $350 billion in loans for small businesses with less than 500 employees and $500 billion in loans for distressed companies, among other efforts including $1,200 in checks sent to eligible American households.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) recently announced that it would be offering disaster loans to small businesses throughout the country.
Black warned that the process to receive the SBA’s loans online has proven difficult with so many companies trying to use the online portal at once and that when applications open for the $2 trillion stimulus, there may be long waiting times.
“You just have to stick with it, you might have to do it in the middle of the night,” he said. “We know the electronic portals will be slow and backed up. It’s just a matter of timing.”
The Harrisburg Regional Chamber and Capital Region Economic Development Corp. supports member businesses and offers economic and businesses development to companies in the Harrisburg and Hershey regions.
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