Resources for Essential Workers

During the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-at-home order, many employees are working in their normal locations due to their roles as employees at essential businesses.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to these courageous individuals who are stepping up in uncertain times.  Healthcare workers, first responders, law enforcement, grocery store employees, transportation workers, essential government employees and many others are working hard to ensure that the critical functions of society continue.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has produced a wide range of guidance for medical professionals, essential employees, businesses and others.  A searchable index of this guidance is available here.

The State of Illinois has published a list of essential businesses and operations that may remain open during the Illinois stay-at-home order,  available here.  Effective May 1st, greenhouses, garden centers and nurseries can reopen as essential businesses.  Additionally, nonessential retail stores may reopen to fulfill online or telephone orders through outdoor pickup or delivery only.

Below is information on several topics that may be useful to essential employees as they perform their duties:

Should I still go to work if I’m employed by an essential business?

What precautions should be taken in the workplace?

How can I get to work if I am an essential employee?

Information for Healthcare Workers

Information for First Responders

Availability and Distribution of Personal Protective Equipment

Coronavirus Testing in Illinois

Federal Resources Available for Healthcare Entities

Additional Resources for Essential Workers

 


 

Should I still go to work if I’m employed by an essential business?

While essential businesses may remain open, the State of Illinois has encouraged essential businesses to promote telecommuting wherever possible.  Businesses might consider reducing hours or creating alternating work schedules to minimize the number of employees in a workplace at one time.  Employees and employers should work together to determine any possible methods for reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

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What precautions should be taken in the workplace?

The State of Illinois’s stay-at-home order encourages businesses to the greatest extent feasible to comply with social distancing requirements and take other appropriate actions to ensure worker and customer safety.  Precautions include maintaining six-foot spacing between people at all times, having hand sanitizer and disinfecting products readily available, implementing separate hours for elderly and vulnerable customers, and sharing information publicly about any changes in operations.  Employers should also actively encourage sick employees to stay home.  Beginning May 1st, the extended stay-at-home order also requires individuals to wear a face covering or mask in public locations where six-foot spacing is not possible, and in all public indoor spaces. 

Robust contingency plans will be helpful in ensuring continuity of essential operations.  The CDC has produced information for businesses and employers on many topics, including cleaning and disinfection, how to handle COVID-19 exposure for critical workers, and recommendations on various policies that employers may desire to implement, including sick leave, telework, compensation changes, and others.  As workplaces, businesses and other public establishments begin to reopen, cleaning and disinfection will be necessary.  The CDC has produced information to help establishments create cleaning and disinfection protocols.  

The Illinois Department of Public Health has also produced guidance for businesses, much of which is based on CDC guidelines.

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How can I get to work if I am an essential employee?

Roads will remain open, and those who commute by car may experience lighter traffic than usual.  However, those using public transit should be mindful of schedule changes, as well as reduced bus and rail service.  All public transit users should routinely check their transit agency websites to monitor service changes.

  • Metra riders can view modified schedules here.
  • CTA riders can view coronavirus response information here.
  • Pace bus riders can view coronavirus response and modified schedule information here.

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Information for Healthcare Workers

Healthcare workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, and there are many ways they are helping in this fight.  Healthcare providers directly involved in the treatment of COVID-19 patients are encouraged to consult clinical guidance published by the Illinois Department of Public Health, available here, as well as interim guidance on a wide range of coronavirus-related topics published by the CDC, available here.

While healthcare providers and facilities treating COVID-19 patients have experienced high patient volumes, many others performing elective medical procedures have experienced sharp declines to conserve personal protective equipment and healthcare system capacity.  The Illinois Department of Public Health has released guidance on how facilities should determine when it is appropriate to resume elective procedures after May 11th.  For now, healthcare providers should use their best clinical judgment and consult with appropriate authorities on minimizing elective procedures, as this can conserve resources like hospital beds, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, and ventilators that may be necessary to deal with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Controlling COVID-19 outbreaks in long term care facilities is critical, as many residents may be older or have chronic conditions that place them in higher risk groups for severe illness.  The Illinois Department of Public Health has produced interim guidance for long term care facilities on how they can manage an outbreak, available here.  The CDC has also produced guidance for long-term care facilities and nursing homes dealing with COVID-19, available here.

While Illinois has many dedicated healthcare professionals on the front lines of the COVID-19 response, even more medically trained individuals will be needed in the coming weeks.  If you are interested in volunteering in a medical surge effort, please visit Illinoishelps.net to learn more and sign up.

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Information for First Responders

The Illinois Department of Public Health has issued guidance on how emergency medical services can best respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the usage of personal protective equipment, transport of patients, cleaning vehicles and other topics.  This guidance is available here.

For emergency medical service and law enforcement personnel, the CDC has published guidelines including information about the coronavirus, personal protective equipment, and what to do if in close contact with an individual during apprehension here.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has announced a new grant opportunity for fire and emergency medical services (EMS) organizations dealing with the impacts of COVID-19.  The Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program—COVID-19 Supplemental is accepting applications until May 15th for fire departments, nonaffiliated EMS organizations and state fire training academies.

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Availability and Distribution of Personal Protective Equipment

At this time, there is a widely known national shortage of personal protective equipment, including gowns, masks, respirators and other supplies.  The CDC has issued a broad range of guidance on optimizing personal protective equipment supplies, including guidelines on reuse of equipment, who should use personal protective equipment, and how supplies can be conserved, as well as an equipment burn rate calculator, available here.

Equipment producers are working to ramp up production, but it will take time before demand can be fully met.  Healthcare systems experiencing supply shortages should work with their normal equipment distributors first to see what may be available.  Recently passed coronavirus stimulus legislation (H.R. 748, the CARES Act) includes over $100 billion in funding that can be used for the purchase of personal protective equipment.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) has taken the lead in our state on coordinating requests for personal protective equipment for healthcare providers and hospitals.  If you work in the healthcare sector and are having trouble sourcing personal protective equipment through normal channels, your employer or facility should reach out to your local health department, which is coordinating requests for IEMA.  Contact information for local health departments can be found below:

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Coronavirus Testing in Illinois

The State of Illinois is working diligently to increase its capacity for coronavirus testing.  As of April 29th, laboratories across the state have run 256,667 tests.  The state now has the capacity to run 10,000 tests per day.  Officials believe meeting this standard is allowing our state to evaluate whether or not the stay-at-home order, social distancing, and other interventions are working, and also to plan for a gradual reopening. 

Illinois has been working to open coronavirus testing sites across the state, a number of which are drive-through sites. A map of testing sites in Illinois, including hours and contact information, is available here.  Testing still may be limited, but the State of Illinois has announced that anyone with COVID-19-like illness or symptoms can get a test, even without a doctor's order. Each site may have different regulations on who should be prioritized for testing (people with a doctor's referral, symptomatic first responders, etc.). Be sure to check the map for site requirements before visiting. If you are unsure whether you need to be tested, consult with your healthcare provider.

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Federal Resources Available for Healthcare Entities

Congress has enacted three pieces of legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  These three bills have included funding to support state and local response efforts.  The recent stimulus legislation (H.R. 748, the CARES Act) included $100 billion for the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to reimburse eligible healthcare entities (public entities, Medicare or Medicaid enrolled suppliers and providers, and others) for expenses or lost revenues due to COVID-19.  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services made an initial $30 billion distribution from this fund based on 2019 Medicare fee-for-service reimbursement data.  An additional $20 billion distribution was made based on cost report data submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Additional disbursements are expected in the near future using other methods to reach providers and facilities not accounted for in the initial rounds.

Nonprofits may also be interested in seeking reimbursement from FEMA for emergency protective measures.  More information about how to apply for reimbursement is available here.  FEMA has also produced guidance on how individuals and the private sector can help in the fight against coronavirus, available here.

COVID-19 response legislation has also relaxed Medicare rules on coverage of telemedicine services.  These services can be useful in helping older and disabled Americans avoid increased risk of COVID-19 exposure in medical offices.  A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services fact sheet on telemedicine coverage is available here.  While not a federal resource, the State of Illinois has also expanded the availability of telemedicine services for Medicaid patients and those with private insurance.  Further information on state efforts to promote telehealth is available here, and state notices to providers on COVID-19-related matters are available here.

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Additional Resources for Essential Workers

Essential workers will continue to need childcare as they perform their jobs.  A website has been created with information on providers that are continuing to operate during the COVID-19 crisis, which you can find here.

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