Archives for 2020
What do Schools Need to do to Safely Reopen?
As America continues with the process of slowly reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, questions have begun regarding the reopening of schools in the fall. Forty-seven states have shut down schools for the remainder of the academic year. Now these states must weigh their options for how and when they will reopen schools. This article will examine what schools need to do to reopen in the fall and address some concerns about returning to school during the pandemic.
Health and Hygiene
Similar to workplaces throughout the country, schools need to adopt and enforce heightened sanitation procedures. Children, and as a result, schools, are not known to stay clean for long periods of time.
In order to reopen schools, the most important factor will be frequent and widespread testing availability. If insufficient COVID-19 testing is available, it will make it difficult to identify illness in the school community, and therefore complicate the process on how to handle infections in the school community.
Additional hygiene considerations include wearing face masks, daily temperature checks, frequent sanitization of school facilities, regularly washing hands, and social distancing throughout the school day. However, enforcing mask wearing may be difficult, due to the ratio of students to faculty, and the need to have open dialogue in a learning environment.
A school’s ability to apply these measures will largely be based on their budgets. Many municipality budgets have been decimated by this pandemic, and it is unclear how many of these school districts will be able to handle the financial burden of retrofitting facilities for optimal hygiene and sanitation.
While initial research seemed to suggest that children were less affected by COVID-19, recent findings in New York have shown that children have developed a serious inflammatory condition that may be linked to the virus. Doctors have reported that more than 120 children in New York and 200 in other states have contracted what is being called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (“MIS-C”). On May 14, the CDC issued a health alert to physicians warning them of the dangers of the potentially deadly condition.
The discovery of MIS-C and its effects on children also complicates the reopening process. Are schools willing to put their students at risk of contracting MIS-C? Further, students with mild or asymptomatic cases can transmit the virus to at-risk students and faculty members. To reiterate, adequate testing and contact tracing is so critical to schools’ ability to reopen. This would allow schools to quickly detect an outbreak and limit the spread of the virus.
Smaller Class Sizes
In an effort to maintain social distancing, schools would need to consider downsizing the number of students per classroom. This may require schools to implement staggered schedules, where certain students attend school on alternate days. On their off days, students would engage in telelearning. An alternative schedule would include morning and afternoon shifts in schools.
By cutting class size in half, desks could be spaced six feet apart. Classrooms would also be retrofitted with sanitation stations, including disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. As mentioned earlier, the ability to execute these measures will depend largely on budgets.
Elementary School First
Some experts have suggested reopening elementary schools first. The rationale is that elementary classrooms have only one head teacher, whereas middle and high schools feature subject teachers and frequent classroom changes, which means more interaction and movement throughout the school.
However, young children are more likely to be unhygienic, frequently putting their hands in their mouths and touching their faces. This could lead to the rapid spread of the virus if a student becomes infected.
Due to the effects of the pandemic on the current schoolyear, which resulted in schools transitioning to telelearning, many schools have considered extending the next school. Due to telelearning, some students may be behind in the education process and would need a way to catch up. This may mean starting the schoolyear earlier or continuing through the summer of 2021 to allow more time for learning.
Flexible Attendance Policies
Once schools reopen, they need to be prepared for the possibility of mass student or staff absences. As a result, schools may need to provide more flexibility on requirements for the number of days students can be absent, certain graduation requirements, and staffing requirements.
Schools must also determine when school closures will be necessary based on a set percentage of staff and student absenteeism. Schools should follow state and local public health authority recommendations when making these determinations.
In addition, schools need to be prepared for a second wave of the virus in the fall. If extended school closures are once again necessary, schools must have a plan ready to reestablish telelearning protocols for students.
Due to the continued necessity of social distancing, most extracurricular activities will have to be suspended indefinitely. This would particularly impact any activity that requires students to gather in large groups, including sporting events.
Challenges for Colleges
Some university administrators have pushed for reopening campuses in the fall. Close-knit college communities are an ideal place to spread a contagion. Colleges need to weigh the danger of potential outbreaks against the potential financial catastrophe that may result from keeping universities closed.
Remaining closed for the fall semester may cause some universities to lose as much as half of their revenue. Therefore, many colleges are developing plans for students to return to campus in the fall. But with students moving freely throughout campuses and interacting, how can universities ensure that this environment can remain safe?
Testing and contact tracing are once again the critical components to reopening, even more so at the university level. An outbreak in one corner of a university community can quickly become a campus-wide outbreak if left unmitigated. Contact tracing may be easier on college campuses, which require students to scan into various locations using ID cards. Universities can track which students have been where on campus, providing a clearly picture of what students and faculty may have been exposed to the virus.
One alternative to a return to regular college life is allowing some students to learn from home for another semester, with a tuition break. This will limit the number of students on campus and would provide less densely packed student housing.
Understand the Emotional Trauma
Developmental experts believe that the disruption to normal life caused by COVID-19 causes an adverse experience for children. Socialization is an important part of childhood development. School counselors say that the isolation caused by social distancing creates trauma. While children, particularly teenagers, spend a lot of time on social media, experts say that the face-to-face interaction of spending time with friends cannot be replaced.
When schools reopen, it is important for schools to provide mental health resources for students and to help them recover. A renewed emphasis on social and emotional learning may go a long way in helping students heal from this traumatic time.
As schools begin to contemplate the reopening process, it is important that they follow the appropriate guidance from public health authorities. This process will contain new challenges, including healthy and safety protocols, remedial academic support, and the possibility of a second wave of the virus. If you have any questions or need assistance throughout this process, please contact us.
8 Key Cyber-Security Considerations For Protecting Your Businesses Remote Workers
Many security and IT teams suddenly had to support and protect employees who must work remotely due to the Covid-19 crises.
The rapid transition to an entirely remote workforce, for most organizations, due to COVID-19 lock down orders have created multiple risks for the IT departments at many businesses. Businesses not only have to successfully secure their corporate tech & equipment they also must secure personal devices of employees used on corporate networks remotely.
Without a remote worker policy and proper tools deployed to mitigate the risks of your business’s remote employees and the vulnerabilities to your IT security, you’re leaving your company wide open to hackers. As employees now operate from their homes, their exposure and awareness to cyber security threats often isn’t as clear as it once was in the confines of their seemingly more secure office environment.
The following is an outline of eight (8) tools to help businesses and employees securely work from home:
- Use a virtual private network:
A VPN also known as a (virtual private network) creates a secure channel for remote devices to privately access the business network. The VPN encrypts all communications and hides the users IP addresses greatly reducing vulnerabilities which encourages hackers to search for easier targets.
VPNs working behind the scenes don’t disrupt productivity. Your remote employee logs into the VPN and it securely logs them into the business network effortlessly and securely.
- Determine the protection required for your remote work force:
Managing your in-house workstations is one thing, but keep in mind you aren’t able to manage the devises of your remote workers to the same level.
Consider the following items when developing a remote workforce policy.
- Decide if you need to arrange alternative cloud-based means to monitor your remote worker’s devices.
- Asses your employee device support tools currently under use.
- Consider implementing a remote access and IT support system to service your remote workers. You can easily implement these tools with companies such as Splashtop or Logmeinrescue, allowing your IT support team remote access to your remote workforce’s devices.
- Develop and implement a written remote work policy:
A written remote work force policy will not only help protect the business but also sets the appropriate expectations for your remote employees. The following are some policies you may consider including when developing your plan.
- Establish a list of approved personal devices authorized to access the company network.
- Set standards of networks authorized and not authorized to access the company’s network, i.e. no use of public devices, WiFi, or networks, etc.
- VPN’s must be used when accessing the company’s network.
- Establish password standards, which must be used on any devices accessing the company network.
- Issue approved and updated anti-virus and anti-malware software to be installed on employee devices accessing the company network.
- Review and update your confidentiality agreement including the proper care procedures for remotely handling corporate information and property.
- Implement two-factor authentication (2FA):
More remote access means more remote vulnerabilities. Consider adding (2FA) to remote access solutions. Two-factor authentication (2fa) is a method of establishing access to an online account or computer system that requires the user to provide two different types of information.
As passwords have become increasingly less secure, whether through data breaches or poor user practices, more and more individuals are moving to 2fa to secure their digital lives and many service providers are encouraging or mandating the shift to 2fa.
If you’re looking to roll out 2fa or multi-factor authentication for your own corporate users, a number of vendors will be happy to help you. A few of the more well know are RSA Authentication Manager, Symantec VIP, and CA Strong Authentication.
- Educate employees on COVID-19 scams:
The National Cyber Awareness system warned of COVID-19 scams circulating currently. Make your remote workforce aware of best practices such as to not click on unsolicited emails; use only official websites; be cautious of emails soliciting personal or corporate information through an attached link; and always confirm origin before acting. Establish a centralized online bulletin board your employees can go to for official communication and notification.
- Encourage employees to be use common sense & caution:
Employees successfully and securely working remotely is a large part of many businesses today and potentially in the future. To ensure your team is protected, consult your employees on the ways they are less secure at home and how they can minimize some of the risks. Have them question any strange-looking texts or emails. Remind them not to put unapproved USB devises or peripherals into their computers. Reinforce the issues of transmitting personal or corporate information by an email. And most importantly, ask them to use common sense be cautious, suspicious, and watchful of what they are transmitting over the network.
- Update acceptable use policies for employees:
Finally, ensure your employees use acceptable computer use policies over their home computer assets. If this wording is not already there, you’ll need to quickly get up to speed in allowing employee’s personal assets be used for remote access. You’ll need to work with the firm’s attorneys and tax advisors to see if the use of personal computers and personal phones of the employees mandate a need for reimbursement for use.
Planning for the future:
While this is a stressful time given the uncertainties, it’s also a great time for making sure your organization is ready for this crisis and prepared for the next. An increased remote workforce was forced upon us. But who’s to say it may not become a more efficient and economical way of running your business. The suggestions we’ve made in this article are prudent not only for a remote work force but are also prudent for a future including more and more mobile devices accessing your network. Make the best of this crisis, use it to fill the gaps in your cyber-security and make your business more secure to handle its future.
Michels & Hanley CPAs, LLP COVID-19 Tax Stimulus
There’s been a flurry of activity surrounding the COVID-19 tax stimulus with changes in tax filing deadlines, paid sick leave, tax credits, stimulus payments, and all kinds of other stuff. We have attempted, to the best of our abilities during a challenging tax season, to synthesize all the changes into one spot. Some of this we ripped off from other authorities, and some is actually original thought. Some of this comes from the WSJ, NATP and the IRS, plus the Committee on Finance’s short-paper.
Now is the Time to Plan for Success Post-COVID-19, Planning for a Consumer with New Boundaries
By: Peter Spoleti April 6, 2020
Retailers and restaurants are incredibly resilient.
With all the obstacles that have been thrown their way, the retail industry survives. Through economic downturns to the threat of a near apocalypse retailers and restaurants have shown resourcefulness and perseverance to overcome those obstacles and have proven their resilience and strength over and over again.
It’s human nature that when faced with a crisis and hectic times it’s just easier to hunker down ride out the storm, assess the damage and develop a plan of action after the storm as passed and the sun comes out. Instinct may tell us that in order to get through this we need to implement a short-term and reactional plan of aggressive marketing and sales promotions. The smarter play however is to focus on the future and the new needs of your guests. This will get them back into the stores.
Irrespective of the overall devastation of this COVID-19 pandemic the costs of writing off the balance of this year and planning to hit the ground running in 2021 is massive. Instead of taking that hit Start Planning Now.
This pause in the economy is a tremendous opportunity to use this down time to re-evaluate your brand and your customers retail experience. Ask yourself what should be done to address the issues my customers are currently coping with and how will I become my customers go to solution when the sun is shining again. Plan now for were you as a brand want to be on the other side of this crises. Both as a company and as your own department.
The following are some consumer-driven trends worth considering for post- COVID-19 retail environment.
Long-Term Retail Trends in the Post-COVID-19 World
Do the Right Thing
When this is over, and it will be over, there will be an expectation that brands did the right thing during this crisis. Those brands will be rewarded by the consumers. Tell the truth, value people over profits and use resources for the greater good. How brands are looked at after this pandemic will be heavily influenced by what they did during it. In other words, consumers tend to reward good corporate stewardship.
Plan Now for the New Retail Experience Customers Will Need
The consumer will want new experiences. Brands should be ready to meet those needs. Deliver new optimistic, entertaining, and fresh experiences. Retailers should prepare to offer experiences that feel characteristically like Spring. People will want a shift away from the despair. After being in isolation for weeks and months consumers will want to feel sunshine on their face. They will want to make themselves feel better, move beyond the crisis and nothing makes one feel better then buying new stuff and new experiences.
Expect a Consumer with New Boundaries
Consumers will be more sensitive to our mutual vulnerability and the added role retailers will have to take to keep everyone healthy. There will be an ongoing expectation to be clean. There may be new expectation of our personal spacing to others. COVID-19 will have an impact on how we feel about crowds. Cramming as many tables or seating into the allotted space may no longer be acceptable. Restaurants may have to revisit their floor plan. Consumers will want to completely reset the boundaries of their personal space.
What was Old May Not Be New
Will this new experience of social distancing drive more consumers to digital platforms? Consumers who never once used services like Uber eats, DoorDash, and non-contact delivery etc. have now adopted new behaviors during this pandemic. They will probably keep using them long after this crisis is over. Is your restaurant set up for that new reality? Unless brands plan to adapt to these new expectations and make their customers feel comfortable, they may go to a competitor who does.
The Post COVID-19 World
Retailers and restaurants will need to conform and adapt their operations and business plan to a post COVID-19 reality. It’s no denying that the retail and restaurant environment was changing already. While these gradual behavior changes weren’t unexpected it’s unquestionable that there will be an acceleration of that timeline.
So how do we handle this rapid change? Don’t panic. Your customers will still be there on the other side of this pandemic. And they’ll be happy to see you. So, it’s up to you to provide them with that new, safer, optimistic, entertaining, and fresh retail experience they’ll be desiring.
Those companies planning now on how to address the needs of their consumers post COVID-19 will benefit. Don’t write off 2020 it’s still young. Think about your customers, welcome them back with that new experience that’ll say, ‘We understand and We’re happy to see you back.