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iStock(NEW YORK) -- A group of workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York City walked off the job and went on strike Monday afternoon, demanding the company shut down and thoroughly clean the sprawling facility after they say multiple employees there have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Fear of the rapidly spreading virus, which has killed nearly 800 people in New York City, has also prompted threatened work stoppages at the online grocery shopping and delivery service Instacart and a planned "sickout" by workers at Whole Foods, a subsidiary of Amazon.

“People are afraid to work. People are there working and they’re putting their lives at risk because there are a number of (coronavirus) cases that they are not aware of," Chris Smalls, a management assistant at the Amazon fulfillment center in New York's Staten Island borough who is organizing the walkout, told ABC News.

Smalls said the company is not being honest with employees about the number of colleagues who have tested positive for the virus in recent days and that management has only confirmed that one worker at the warehouse has come down with the virus.

"That’s a bold face lie because I sent home the third case directly," Smalls said, adding that he knows of a total of seven cases at the facility that employs more than 4,000 people.

Smalls said the company placed him on quarantine on Saturday because he came in close contact with a worker who tested positive.

He said he sent the infected worker home on Tuesday when she was showing symptoms of illness. He said the worker was tested on Wednesday but was allowed to return to work until her test results came back positive on Thursday.

“She already had time to spread it. Her friend caught it. Her friend was the third case," Smalls said. "She tested positive and she’s a supervisor in the pack department and the pack department is right before the items go out door to the customers. It’s dangerous."

People are there working and they’re putting their lives at risk because there are a number of (coronavirus) cases that they are not aware of.

Smalls estimated that 50 to 100 employees planned to walk off the job and form a picket line outside the warehouse, making sure they practice safe social distancing.

"We’re trying to get the building closed down and sanitized. That’s all we’re asking for," Smalls said.

In a statement to ABC News, Amazon said it has been working to keep employees safe at the Staten Island fulfillment center, adding that claims made by Smalls that the company is putting workers in jeopardy are "simply unfounded."

"Our employees are heroes fighting for their communities and helping people get critical items they need in this crisis," Amazon's statement reads. "Like all businesses grappling with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we are working hard to keep employees safe while serving communities and the most vulnerable. We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available, and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances. The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day."

Amazon employees working in the grocery and delivery services have been classified as essential workers by government officials across the country.

The company says it's upping hourly wages from $17.50 to $23 to workers at the Staten Island warehouse and paying double overtime to those who show up to work. The company is also offering extended leave to full-time employees who prefer to stay home during the crisis.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sushiman/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The coronavirus pandemic has quickly evolved from a health crisis to a financial one, shuttering businesses, upending entire industries and sending financial markets reeling.

Here's the latest news on how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the economy. For more on financial resources available during the pandemic, click here.

Macy's to furlough a majority of its workforce beginning this week

As the retail industry takes a massive hit from the COVID-19 outbreak, the already-struggling chain Macy's announced Monday it will furlough "the majority of our colleagues" beginning this week.

All Macy's stores have been shuttered since March 18 and will remain closed "until we have clear line of sight on when it is safe to reopen," the company said in a statement.

The company admitted the outbreak "continues to take a heavy toll on Macy's, Inc. business."

"Across Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and Bluemercury brands, we will be moving to the absolute minimum workforce needed to maintain basic operations," the statement added.

Workers who have been furloughed but are enrolled in health benefits will continue to receive coverage until at least May, the company said.

Macy's said it expects to bring back the furloughed employees "on a staggered basis as business resumes."

Markets uptick slightly after weeks of volatility

U.S. financial markets showed some signs of stabilization after a volatile few weeks, inching upwards slightly on Monday morning.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up over 250 points, or slightly over 1% by mid-morning Monday. The S&P 500 was up more than 1.5% and the Nasdaq spiked more than 2%.

Markets slipped last Friday after three days of back-to-back gains earlier in the week.

Over the weekend, President Trump officially reversed his call to reopen businesses by Easter and said he will extend the nation's coronavirus social distancing guidelines to April 30.

"The modelling estimates that the peak in death rate is likely to hit in two weeks," Trump said at his daily briefing at the White House. "Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.”

The guidelines cover work-from-home directives, travel limitations, business closures and other efforts to combat the virus. Trump said that his office would give more details about the new plans on Tuesday.

The announcement came just days after the president said he hoped that Easter would be a celebration of the virus' defeat.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


hillwoman2/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., will stop paying its musicians despite expecting to receive some $25 million in aid from the recently signed coronavirus national stimulus package, a union that represents the orchestra said.

The center's president, Deborah Rutter, told the National Symphony Orchestra Friday night its musicians would receive their last paycheck this week and that they would not be paid until the venue reopens, according to a statement the American Federation of Musicians.

The orchestra was also told that its musicians would lose their healthcare benefits at the end of May if the center remains closed at that time, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the pay stoppage.

The prestigious arts center earlier this month cancelled all performances through May 10 in an effort to follow the government's social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus outbreak across the country.

Ed Malaga, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of Musicians, called the decision "outrageous" in the statement, provided to ABC News, and added the union has filed a grievance challenging the arts center's announcement on Friday to stop paying its musicians.

"This decision, from an organization with an endowment of nearly $100 million, is not only outrageous – coming after the musicians had expressed their willingness to discuss ways to accommodate the Kennedy Center during this challenging time – it is also blatantly illegal under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement," Malaga wrote. "That agreement specifically requires that the Center provide six weeks’ notice before it can stop paying musicians for economic reasons."

The Kennedy Center did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

Rutter told her staff earlier last week that she was suspending her $1.2 million salary during the crisis, according to the Post. Weekly payroll for the musicians is $400,000, an arts center spokeswoman said in the report.

"Without concerts and the corresponding ticket revenue, it is an unsustainable strategy to pay musicians to stay at home during this forced and still undefined quarantine period," Rutter said in a statement to the Post on Saturday. “These cuts combined with anticipated administrative staff furloughs and potential layoffs may seem drastic, however, we know the only way through this is for all union and non-union employees to participate in the solution. The other unions within the Center have also experienced this furlough and are not or will not be receiving compensation.”

The Kennedy Center's announcement to halt payments to its musicians came just hours after President Donald Trump signed the $2 trillion stimulus bill, which includes a $25 million designated specifically for the Kennedy Center.

In her statement to the Post, Rutter said the $25 million would “provide long-term cash flow for essential personnel to ensure that we can reopen the Center and re-employ our staff and musicians.”

The bill also includes an addition $75 million in grants available through the National Endowment for the Arts in an effort to support the art and theater community across the struggling industry to make the ends meet during the pandemic. Thousands of theaters across the 50 states closed shows last week, canceled remaining productions and suffered massive lay-offs.

A study earlier this month from Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization, estimated that the theater and arts industry has already lost $3 billion in the wake of the current public health and economic crisis.

Asked on "Fox and Friends" Monday about the Kennedy Center's decision to stop pay for the orchestra despite the financial boost, President Trump pivoted to politics and said, "That's the way [the Democrats] play." He went on to call for viewers to vote against Democrats.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., told ABC News in a phone interview Monday that the stimulus bill did not dictate exactly how the money should spent, and she criticized the Kennedy Center's management for not conferring with employees before making their decision.

"Congress did not specify how much goes to people like the National Symphony Orchestra and how much goes to people who just keep the place clean and running," Norton said of the funding, suggesting the move may have run afoul of labor regulations.

The language of the bill that allocates $25 million to the center simply says the money will "provide operating support to the national cultural center and Presidential memorial during the coronavirus crisis," and that the funding "ensures that the Center, which employed more than 3,000 people last year, will be able to reopen its doors to the public once the crisis is over."

The combined $100 million funding for the Kennedy Center and for the National Endowment for the Art and Humanities had also previously caused a stir among some Republicans who questioned the inclusion of the arts center in the emergency rescue package.

Last week the president defended the aid after slicing $10 million off the original $35 million he said had been requested by Democrats. The president said he's a "fan" of the funding, saying the arts center has "suffered greatly because nobody can go there." But Trump maintained distance, saying "it was a Democrat request," and that "you got to give them something."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


HRAUN/iStock(NEW YORK) -- As officials scramble to supply hospitals with much needed protective equipment for doctors and nurses fighting the novel coronavirus on the front lines, hospital leaders around the country warn that they are running low on another critical supply: money.

Hospitals have taken a significant loss of revenue as they cut back lucrative elective procedures to free up resources to treat COVID-19 patients. At the same time, they are pouring money into efforts to fight the virus like buying personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, providing child care for staff and overtime pay, transforming units to COVID-19 wings for treatment and setting up drive-thru testing sites, hospital officials told ABC News.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week called the combination a "double whammy." For hospital systems across the country the costs are astronomical and state officials told ABC News they fear some facilities do not have enough cash to keep up.

The $2 trillion stimulus package President Donald Trump signed on Friday afternoon, which awards nearly $100 billion to hospitals to fight the coronavirus, is a boost many hope will alleviate some of the financial burden and prevent hospitals from closing their doors.

"We can’t print money, so we have to have the financial support coming in." LeRay Brown, the CEO of One Brooklyn Health System, told ABC News. "Without that funding I don’t know how long we can continue."

One Brooklyn Health System, which operates three hospitals in New York City where the virus has hit hardest in the U.S., projects they will need to spend an additional $30 million per month in order to respond to surge needs in their area, Brown said, including the nearly $8 million they will lose per month by cutting out elective surgeries. Purchasing nearly 300 additional beds in order to increase hospitals' capacity by 50% -- which they have been mandated to do under an executive order signed by Cuomo -- will cost $5 million alone.

The hospital system, which is crucial for low-income individuals in the area, is already caring for over 200 patients who either have the virus or are awaiting test results. Meanwhile, it only has two weeks cash on hand, Brown said.

One doctor on the front lines said they feel hospitals are being overlooked in the national dialogue about the extreme toll the pandemic has taken on the U.S. economy.

"I think there's been so much national focus on bailing out the airlines, but I think what people don't realize is that the hospitals are in extreme financial trouble over the COVID-19 crisis," a physician at a top Boston area hospital told ABC News. "I feel like people -- nobody's talking about that. Everybody thinks hospitals are doing fine. If we don't bail out the hospitals, we're going to lose the very lifelines that we have -- the front lines that we have -- to fight this thing."

During the signing of the stimulus bill, Trump did acknowledge the challenge hospitals are facing, saying more than $100 billion is going to "support our heroic doctors, nurses and hospitals" and that hospitals will get "the money they need."

American Hospital Association President and CEO Rick Pollack called the legislation an "important first step forward," but warned that "more will need to be done to deal with the unprecedented challenge of this virus."

Hospital leaders in numerous states echoed the dire concerns about their facilities and the urgent need for an infusion of funding.

Andy Carter, the president and CEO of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), said there is a "legitimate credible threat" that some hospitals in his state would close without immediate financial support.

An HAP spokesperson told ABC News the federal package was "encouraging," but warned there was no "clarity" on how much aid would be distributed to hospitals in the state -- or when.

"We caution that some of our members have estimated, and nationwide accounts validate, that hospitals are facing a financial free-fall," the spokesperson wrote, explaining that a "preliminary analysis" shows that losses for hospitals in Pennsylvania alone could rise to more than $1 billion per month.

In Ohio, Ohio Hospital Association President Mike Abrams said he could think of two hospitals that he "worries a lot about," and could "think of many more" that will be in equally precarious situations if aid does not come soon. The TriHealth system, based in Cincinnati, has already cut 20% of senior leaders' pay in order to "be fully prepared for the surge in demand," CEO Mark Clement said in a statement, as reported by

Jeff Tieman, president and CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, explained the increase in costs are especially significant for rural hospitals that were already "under serious financial stress" even before the pandemic began in the state of Vermont, which has one of the oldest populations in the country,

Minnesota-based health system M Health Fairview, which recently converted one of its hospitals to a COVID-19 specialized-care facility, is anticipating a cut of more than a third of its revenue due to loss of volume in outpatient areas, spokesperson David Henke told ABC News. As a nonprofit group that operates on a extremely tight margins -- with net operating margin for last fiscal year at just 0.2% -- Fairview faces significant financial challenges as a result of the pandemic, Henke said.

"Our focus right now is providing the care our patients and our community need," Henke told ABC News. "However, the reality is M Health Fairview, like many health care systems across the country, is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of this public health crisis."

And the financial crunch is a reality hospitals across the financial spectrum are dealing with.

"Even the hospitals who are well resourced are really worried," Abrams told ABC News.

He estimates the fiscal impact on Ohio hospitals would amount to a loss of $1.2 billion per month.

"It is effecting everyone negatively, whether you are a huge system that is well resourced or a small system that was hanging on nervously," he said.

The Hospital for Special Surgery in New York said the cost of scaling back their capacity by 90% in order to brace for a surge and transforming their facilities, coupled with the loss in revenue, amounted to "hundreds of million of dollars," CEO Lou Shapiro told ABC News.

In Louisiana, where the number of positive cases and deaths is skyrocketing, Baton Rouge General Hospital has also backed away from its outpatient business as it doubles down on its COVID-19 response while continuing to provide essential care for those having heart attacks, strokes, diabetes or cancer.

Completely letting go of the highly lucrative elective surgery has caused a big financial strain on the system, its CEO Stephen Mumford told ABC News. Mumford said on Thursday there were less than five surgeries, all of which were emergent surgeries.

"When you go from a hospital that does 40 to 50 surgeries a day to a hospital that does two to three, it really is going to hurt us," Mumford said.

"But the reality is, we can't worry about that right now," Mumford said. "We're a community hospital and we've got to take care of the community patients that are coming in."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


BrianAJackson/iStock(NEW YORK) -- With the coronavirus pandemic spreading throughout the United States and crippling the economy, Congress moved quickly to approve a $2 trillion relief bill, which President Donald Trump soon signed.

Included in the bill is relief for borrowers of certain types of student loans -- they'll see their interest frozen and payments suspended through at least Sept. 30.

ABC News' Good Morning America spoke with Ashley Harrington, director of federal advocacy and senior counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending, to better understand what it means for those carrying certain student debt and what they'll want to consider during this deferment period.

1. Know which loans are eligible for suspension

Harrington said only loans held by the U.S. Department of Education are eligible for the proposed suspension.

She recommended checking with your servicer at to find out whether your federal loan is one held by the Education Department or another entity.

But if you have loans serviced by a private provider, you may still have options.

"Get in contact with your private student loan servicer -- your private student loan holder -- if you're struggling, and determine if there's something you can do to work it out," Harrington told GMA. "Sometimes, they can make some type of payment plan, some type of accommodation, but they are not covered by this bill."

2. Know how your loan and balance will be affected

If your loans are eligible for a pause, keep in mind that your balance isn't going anywhere, and although your interest won't go up, you could be paying for a longer period of time.

Also, if your loans are in default through something like a wage garnishment, you'll see relief.

"If you are in default before the suspension, once the suspension ends, you will remain in default -- unless you were already on a rehabilitation plan," Harrington said.

This time period could allow you to play catch-up on payments and possibly get out of default, if you're still working or otherwise able to continue paying.

As far as interest, since the loans in question won't be accruing any during the suspension, it might not make sense to take any steps to change your interest rate, such as by consolidating loans.

"When you consolidate loans, you are basically getting a new loan," Harrington said. "Any credit you did have towards forgiveness for public service or income-based repayment, you no longer have that because it's now, technically, a new loan."

Harrington also warned that while it may be tempting to pursue a private lender's offer to consolidate if they're offering perks such as lower rates, private student loans are "often less favorable for borrowers than the federal student loan program."

3. Know your limitations and how you can get ahead

If you have the ability to continue paying toward your federal loans, should you?

Harrington said that some may consider redirecting their money toward savings, credit card debt or even medical debt, the latter of which is sure to increase for hundreds of thousands.

Harrington advised looking at your situation and making sure that when this six-month period is up you'll "be in a place where hopefully you can start repaying."

But, she cautions, that might not be a given.

"We don't know how long this crisis is going to go on, and we don't know the effects and how long they're going to last," she said. "When payments restart, people will still be struggling, our economy will still be recovering, so we just have to be very careful."

"It's complicated, depending on where you are in your payment cycle and where you are in your life," she added.

4. Be your own advocate

Harrington recommended approaching calls with your student loan provider with as much information as you can arm yourself with, noting that the speed of Congress' bill doesn't ensure financiers will be caught up with all the new rules.

"It's a complex bureaucratic system," she said. "We're waiting for the guidance to go from Congress to the Department [of Education] to make that guidance, to get it to all their servicers, then actually get implemented, and then get that all down to the call center employees that you will actually speak to when you call."

She also recommends clarifying with providers that you'll receive credit if you're in public service loan forgiveness or income-based repayment plans. If you continue to make payments, she suggests that you discuss where you would like that money to go, such as directly to your principal as opposed to interest, which would decrease future interest buildup.

If payments are automatically withdrawn from your accounts, be sure to tell your provider to freeze that service during this grace period.

"If something does go wrong, and you are charged a payment that you did not intend to pay," she said, "make sure that you are following up and getting that money refunded. That should be as an option for you and you might need to be your own advocate."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


iStock(NEW YORK) -- In just a few weeks, the novel coronavirus outbreak has changed the way thousands of companies operate in an unprecedented manner. As business owners and employees navigate the new normal, here are some of the ways they have adapted to stay operating amid a global pandemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak has delivered an indiscriminate blow to businesses as everything from small restaurants to multinational corporations have been forced to change how they do work amid a series of shutdown orders to help stem the tide of the virus. They have also had to implement these massive organizational changes in just a matter of weeks to attempt to stay afloat -- with many companies shifting to full-scale working from home plans and others going all in on delivery.

"I’ve done a couple of webinars with groups of companies. As of about a week and a half ago they weren’t doing anything, there wasn’t anything different," Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources, told ABC News.

While many companies have adapted to the new realities of a pandemic economy, Cappelli predicts, "the big test will come when it goes on for more than a couple of weeks."

Some industries, like airlines, have not been able to find their footing as ridership has plummeted amid the crisis, leading them to project massive losses. And millions of workers have already filed for unemployment, even as companies scramble to hire workers to accommodate the new realities of the socially distanced and increasingly delivery economy.

"Right now, I think companies are getting a lot out of the good citizenship of their employees," he added.

Moreover, in recent months, Cappelli said there has been a shift in the way employers regard their workers, and it has been in vogue for business leaders to refer to employees as "stakeholders" not just workers. Cappelli predicts this health crisis is one of the first obstacles to put that to the test.

So far, "we’ve seen more companies carrying employees for longer than expected if this had been a financial downturn versus a health-related one," he said.

Teleworking takes over everything from meetings to yoga classes

Social-distancing measures and government-mandated stay-in-place orders have led to entire companies moving their workforce to working from home, leading to a skyrocketing demand for video conferencing software such as Zoom.

"The world is not going to be the same as it was in December," Janine Pelosi, Zoom's chief marketing officer, told ABC News. "Where that levels out, none of us really know. But working remotely, and using video conferencing, is not going to go away. If anything, I think it will speed up the adoption of these technologies."

In addition to being used for meetings, workers in the health and fitness sector have also used the software to stream live workout or yoga classes. Teachers have also turned to the platform for remote learning lessons.

Amy Smith, a yoga instructor at Laughing Buddha Hot Yoga in West Deptford, New Jersey, said she is doing live, online yoga classes seven days a week amid the outbreak.

"I do them on Zoom then upload them on YouTube then link them to MINDBODY to get to as many platforms as we can get on," she told local ABC News affiliate WPVI-TV.

While she expressed worry for the fate of her business, she said she is currently doing her classes online for free.

"I will not charge for this and I want people to have access to this now more than ever," Smith said. "People don't have money to do yoga, they may be struggling to get money for dinner."

Pelosi said she has heard of the platform being used "for weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs" in the aftermath of many "shelter-in-place" ordinances.

Restaurants and delivery

The same new directives that are forcing thousands to work from home have led to a sharp uptick in demand for delivery services, especially in the food and grocery sector.

While the coronavirus-induced economic crisis has led to skyrocketing unemployment numbers, we've seen "delivery companies booming," Cappelli said. Many also announced they are hiring hundreds of thousands of workers while other companies are facing mass lay-offs.

Instacart announced late last week it plans to hire a whopping 300,000 additional full-time shoppers over the next three months to meet the increased demand.

Amazon similarly said it will hire 100,000 full and part-time positions at fulfillment centers and delivery networks across the U.S. Pizza delivery giants Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's also said they are hiring.

A handful of places including New York City have also mandated restaurants and other gathering-places such as bars only do take-out services for the time being.

Dawn Kelly, a small-business owner who runs the Nourish Spot restaurant in Queens, said everything about how they do business has changed amid the outbreak.

"I'm not letting people in," she told ABC News. "We’re serving people pretty much at the door."

"We keep the door locked, we go to the door and we give them their food from behind the door with gloves on," she added. "Same thing with our delivery app drivers, we’re not letting them in, they are showing us their phone through the window."

Photos of business across the country setting out social distancing rules for takeout customers with signs or chalk have also inundated social media.

It's not just in urban areas. In western Pennsylvania, demand for a delivery "milkman" has come back, according to one local dairy farmer.

"It's been a crazy uptick in interest," said Jeff Brunton, of Brunton Dairy in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, told local ABC News affiliate WTAE, describing the new demand as "like a tidal wave."

"It allows you to stay in-home or in your neighborhood, and not have to worry about being amongst the crowds and touching dirty shopping carts," he added.

He said he even teamed up with other local businesses to help deliver beef, bacon, and butter and more as social-distancing becomes the norm.

Grocery and retail

As grocery and retail stores also adjust to the new reality, some have also made major changes amid the health crisis.

Dollar General, Target, Walmart, Whole Foods and more have announced special hours for older shoppers, the most at-risk group to serious complications from COVID-19.

Walmart's executive vice president of corporate affairs, Dan Bartlett, said the biggest impact on the outbreak to their more than 4,800 stores has been "how our associates are coming together and doing heroic work."

"The care they're putting into serving our communities is amazing," he said.

But it's no longer business-as-usual.

As for how business has changed, Bartlett said they have reduced hours to allow for deep-cleanings of the store, upped the availability of hand sanitizer and disinfectant-wipe stations and installed new "sneeze-guard" glass at pharmacy and checkout and more.

"Associates clean carts with cleaning kits as well," he added. "We're installing clear plexiglass, sometimes there called sneeze guards. Buffets use them a lot, to prevent the spread of germs. We're rolling them out in pharmacy lanes and checkout lanes."

Bartlett says they currently do not have a maximum occupancy limit for shoppers entering the stores, but said, "We're installing signage to all of the stores to promote social distancing."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Skyhobo/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- The Environmental Protection Agency will put companies and specific facilities in charge of monitoring their own compliance with environmental laws during the novel coronavirus emergency, according to officials.

This move has led critics to accuse the agency of backing off its role to prevent uncontrolled pollution or other violations.

EPA argued the change was needed because of staffing shortages that facilities, like power plants, said has made it more difficult to keep up with deadlines and accountability requirements.

The agency will still enforce criminal violations as well as follow usual enforcement procedures for some programs like managing Superfund sites, according to guidance on how EPA will use its enforcement discretion.

"We were hearing from a number of facilities around the country where they simply don't have the necessary personnel in their facilities to make those reports in a timely basis," EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters Thursday afternoon.

Wheeler said they will also still enforce instances that could present an imminent public health risk and that the flexibility is more geared toward administrative requirements. Companies will be required to track their own violations, if they occur, and document how the violation was related to COVID-19, through staffing shortages or other issues.

Environmental groups accused the agency of giving polluters a free pass because of the pandemic, saying that without federal oversight companies could skimp on recording information on releases of air or water pollution.

"This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future," Cynthia Giles, former assistant EPA administrator for enforcement and compliance, said in a statement. "It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way "caused" by the virus pandemic."

She added, "And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was."

But Susan Bodine, assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance, said facilities will still face enforcement and possible penalties for environmental violations during the emergency. She noted that the policy will put the burden on facilities to notify EPA and state agencies of any violations.

"If you do have violations of your permit, you're still obligated to meet your permit limits you're supposed to do everything possible, Bodine said. "And after the fact the agency will take that all into consideration but there isn't a promise of no penalties in those kinds of situations."

"If you have an acute risk, if you have an imminent threat ... the facility has to come in and talk to their regulator, their authorized state or come into the agency," she continued. "And the reason for that is that we want to, we want to put all of our resources into keeping these facilities safe keeping communities safe."

Bodine said if entities are struggling, "they have to come in and talk to us."

In response to the outbreak, EPA has stepped up its work to approve disinfectant products that can kill the virus and worked to prevent unapproved products from being brought into the country.

Wheeler said EPA is also working with manufacturers to maintain the supply chain of ingredients to keep up with demand for disinfectants.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sushiman/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The coronavirus pandemic has quickly evolved from a health crisis to a financial one, shuttering businesses, upending entire industries and sending financial markets reeling.

Here's the latest news on how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the economy:

IMF chief predicts a 'quite deep' recession for 2020

Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in a briefing Friday that the organization representing more than 189 countries is now projecting a recession for 2020.

Moreover, "we are expecting it to be quite deep," she said.

"We are very much urging countries to speed up containment measures aggressively so we can shorten the duration of this period of time when the recession is in standstill," she said. "And also to apply well-targeted measures, primary focusing on the health system to absorb that enormous stress that comes from coronavirus and on people, businesses, and the financial system."

She applauded countries' fiscal and monetary policy responses so far for both their speed and breadth.

LIVE NOW: Press Briefing by @KGeorgieva following a Conference Call of the International Monetary and Financial Committee (IMFC).

— IMF (@IMFNews) March 27, 2020

In a statement shortly after Friday's briefing, Georgieva and the IMF's Financial Committee Chair Lesetja Kganyago called for increased multilateral action among central banks and other financial institutions.

"We are in an unprecedented situation where a global health pandemic has turned into an economic and financial crisis. With a sudden stop in economic activity, global output will contract in 2020. Member countries have already taken extraordinary actions to save lives and safeguard economic activity. But more is needed," they said in a joint statement.

It continued: "Priority should be afforded to targeted fiscal support to vulnerable households and businesses to accelerate and strengthen the recovery in 2021."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledges $25 million for coronavirus treatment funding

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg said Friday that he and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, will give $25 million to accelerate the development of coronavirus treatments, saying he hopes to get a vaccine to test developed in "months rather than a year or more."

"We're partnering with the Gates Foundation and others to quickly evaluate the most promising existing drugs to see which ones might be effective at preventing and treating the coronavirus," Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post Friday morning. "Since these drugs have already gone through clinical safety trials, if they're effective, it will be much faster to make them available than it will be to develop and test a new vaccine -- hopefully months rather than a year or more."

After three-day rally, markets slip Friday

After three days of back-to-back gains, U.S. financial markets slipped Friday as the coronavirus pandemic wages on.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 700 points, or over 3%, when U.S. markets opened Friday. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also both dropped approximately 3% Friday morning.

The United States now has nearly 86,000 cases of COVID-19, the highest number in the world. At least 1,300 people have died in the U.S.

Moreover, in New York City -- the new epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic -- Mayor Bill de Blasio projected Friday morning that "over half the people in this city will ultimately be infected."

Equity markets have seesawed for weeks as the COVID-19 outbreak has sowed uncertainty among investors.

A $2 trillion stimulus package to help lessen the blow of the outbreak on the economy was approved by the Senate earlier this week, leading to the three-day market rally ahead of Friday's tumble.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


HRAUN/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now killed more than 24,000 people around the world.

With more than 85,000 diagnosed cases, the United States has the highest national total in the world.

Medical personnel around the world have been working hard to help those impacted by COVID-19. They are the front line of defense when it comes to fighting this pandemic.

From shoes to coffee, companies have started giving back to support medical workers during this tough time.


Boston-based shoe company OOFOS is starting a program to help those who are helping others during this time of need.

In the first phase, the company is donating more than 1,000 pairs of shoes to nurses and medical professionals all around the country.

Their shoes are sanitary and have antimicrobial properties so they can be washed between shifts.

"While our company is Boston-based, we have field members all over the U.S. who work intimately with their communities, and who personally know nurses fighting this pandemic bravely on the front lines," Darren Brown, head of marketing at OOFOS, told ABC News' Good Morning America.

"Because of this, we wanted to donate shoes not only to medical professionals in our backyard of Boston with Massachusetts General Hospital, but also wanted to open this opportunity up to our field team, allowing them to reach out to their communities and show nurses that they are seen, supported and thanked for all they are doing," he said.


Allbirds has distributed $500,000 in shoes to health care workers and medical personnel working in the United States.

The company is also starting a "buy-one-give-one" option for people shopping for the products to split the cost of donating a pair of Wool Runners to those in need.

"Health care workers have been our nation’s heroes through this pandemic; we are humbled by their service and simply trying to do what we can to provide comfort to them during this time," a spokesperson told GMA.


Family-owner footwear brand KEEN launched the "Together We Can Help" initiative to have people nominate those they felt were most in need of a new pair of shoes.

In less than a week, they gave away 100,000 pairs of shoes to people in need.

"People like nurses working overtime shifts, grocery store clerks re-stocking shelves, and families trying to keep up with their kids now that schools are shut down, all got a boost thanks to a new pair of KEEN shoes," the brand said in a statement.


Crocs is donating a free pair of shoes to health care workers fighting COVID-19 through its new program, “A Free Pair for Healthcare."

Starting at 12 p.m. ET every day, these workers can request a pair of shoes until supplies last.

Crocs is also distributing an additional 100,000 pairs of shoes to select health care facilities across the country.

"These workers have our deepest respect, and we are humbled to be able to answer their call and provide whatever we can to help during this unprecedented time," Crocs CEO Andrew Rees said in a statement.


Premium scrubs brand FIGS announced it would be donating 30,000 sets of scrubs to hospitals over the next two months.

Pronovias Group

Luxury bridalwear company Pronovias is donating wedding dresses to hospital-employed future brides working on the front lines of this crisis.

Until Aug. 21, brides-to-be who are employed by a hospital and helping with this crisis are eligible for a free wedding dress.

"Using the slogan #LoveConquersAll, Pronovias Group wants to share a message of love and selflessness in these times of uncertainty and distress, hoping that, before long, brides will again be able to celebrate their love," the company said in a statement.


Australian skincare brand LANO is donating 1,000 bars of their popular soap to hospital staff.

“We have been hearing that hospital staff have been going above and beyond in these trying times and were in need of skincare as the masks have been causing skin damage – acne, bruising - due to wearing them for a long period of time. We are donating 1,000 Lanolin & Egg-White Cleansing Bars as a token of our appreciation,” Kirsten Carriol, CEO and founder of Lanolips, told GMA.


The clean beauty brand Bliss is donating thousands of its self-care products to hospitals across the United States.

People can nominate their #healthcareheroes on Instagram to receive a special care package. The brand will pick five winners every Thursday.


The health and beauty brand FEKKAI is sending 4,000 dry shampoos and over 250 hand creams to hospitals all over the country.

“We have tremendous admiration for all of the healthcare workers fighting in this unprecedented time. When we heard that they needed products to help them through their long days, we were eager to help,” FEKKAI founder Frederic Fekkai told GMA.


Massaging device company Theragun is helping hospital personnel alleviate tension by donating their devices to hospitals across the country.

So far, the brand has delivered devices to hospital break rooms in over 30 states.

"We are donating Theraguns to hospitals all across the US to help provide relief for the medical staff and their bodies. These people’s bodies are taking a beating through their service to others. If Theragun can provide them with just a few minutes of relief, then the donation is worth it," Dr. Jason Wersland, founder of Theragun, said.

The company is also donating 100 meals for every device sold through Feeding America.


Until May 3, Starbucks will be giving a free tall brewed coffee to anyone one identifies as a first responder or front line worker supporting our healthcare system.

This includes police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, hospital and medical staff and medical researchers.

The company is also donating money to support the delivery of 50,000 care packages to healthcare workers.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe

Tropical Smoothie Cafe is on a mission to give away 100,000 smoothies to hospital workers across the country.

"In these trying times, it can be comforting to know that we’re #InItTogether, and hope that this campaign inspires others to give back in any way they can and remember that even the smallest acts of kindness can have a significant impact," Charles Watson, CEO of Tropical Smoothie Cafe, told GMA.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


flukyfluky/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Working in construction during the coronavirus pandemic has split the industry down the middle, according to advocates and health experts.

On one hand, buildings, roads and utilities need regular maintenance and upgrades, and millions of blue-collar workers need those jobs to support families, construction union leaders said. At the same time, those close-knit worksites and, sometimes, unsanitary work conditions are ripe for exposure to the virus, according to Jeanne Stellman, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who specializes in workers safety issues.

"The question is, 'What jobs can be done safely?'" she told ABC News. "This is a time when those generally poor standards [at construction sites] need to be addressed."

Stellman and other advocates called on the government to come up with immediate solutions to address both issues before they create a deeper economic and public health problem on the nation.

More than 7.6 million Americans worked in a construction job in February, according to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For many states, including New York, the hardest hit by the pandemic, construction projects have continued after being deemed essential services.

Ken Rigmaiden, the general president of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which has over 111,000 members in the U.S. and Canada, estimated that half of the construction sites in the country have shut down since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Rigmaiden noted one of his members, Tureka Dixon, a single mother from Philadelphia with a child on the autism spectrum, lost her construction job recently and is desperate to get back to work.

"People need to be aware of that in this industry, if they don’t work and don’t get paid, they are hurt," Rigmaiden told ABC News.

The union leader added that governments should be using the construction workforce to their advantage as the need for new hospital spaces and coronavirus testing centers soar. Rigmaiden acknowledged that some workers would prefer to stay at home to avoid contracting the disease, for which there should be assistance.

The Laborers' International Union of North America, which has half a million members in North America, sent a letter to congressional leaders Tuesday urging them to come up with relief plans for construction workers. Some of the recommendations the union put forward include family and medical leave for their members, and a new emergency safety standard for work during the outbreak.

"I want to stress the importance of making sure that federal action to address COVID-19 should benefit the workers and families who are bearing the brunt of this crisis," LIUNA general president Terry O’Sullivan wrote.

Stellman said the calls for financial assistance are important for those workers, and at the same time, the government should stress better safety standards. In addition to the number of risks construction workers face while doing their tasks, Stellman said the sanitary hazards are far more concerning.

Things like a lack of clean toilets and sinks to tight lifts and a lack of personal protective equipment raise the chances that the workers will contract COVID-19, she said. Stellman warned that the country should learn the lessons from the excavation and extraction work that took place at Ground Zero after 9/11 when workers were not protected from the poisonous atmosphere.

"We operated there 24/7 without any precautions and we are still paying the price for the brave guys who did all for us," she said.

Carlo Scissura, the president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, a trade group that represents developers and construction companies, said several major companies have instituted stricter health safety policies in the last few weeks. Several companies, he said, are taking the temperatures of their workers when they arrive on site and are asking any employee who feels sick to stay at home.

"A lot of these sites are union sites and unions have clear guidelines for their employees," Scissura told ABC News. "We’re monitoring to see if there are site-specific cases where there are people who aren’t given the opportunity to go home if they’re sick."

Stellman said she hopes the situation will spur elected officials and industry leaders to take a good look at the health safety standards in construction sites concerning pandemics and institute stronger safeguards.

"Construction workers have always stepped up to their responsibilities to provide us with the structures that we need for our lives," she said. "They have shown to do it at great risk and we as a society have to ask that the risk they take is absolutely minimal."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Jokic/iStock(NEW YORK) -- As the novel coronavirus makes its insidious way around the world, many businesses have mandated that employees whose work does not require their physical presence to work from home -- a real-time stress test of America's internet infrastructure.

Experts are seeing traffic surges in both home broadband Internet and, in some instances, cellular traffic -- specifically, an increase in video conferencing on phones.

Network operators have confirmed the surge. As of this week, AT&T reported, "Wireless voice minutes of use was up 39% compared to an average Monday. Wi-Fi Calling minutes of use was 78% higher than an average Monday. Consumer home voice calling minutes of use were up 45% from an average Monday." The company said its core network traffic, including "business, home broadband and wireless usage," was up 27% on Monday compared with the same day last month.

And in a posting on its website, Verizon said that the company's "wireless and broadband networks handled more than 218,000 terabytes of data this past Monday alone." The company also saw a surge in Virtual Private Network traffic. VPNs allow people to create a secure connection over a public network, such as like the internet, to reach a private network. VPN traffic was up 52% over a typical day on Verizon's network.

Internet broadband and cellular networks have limitations. How sustainable are these networks, especially when no one knows how long coronavirus lockdowns will continue?

Doug Suttles, CEO and co-founder of Ookla, creator of the popular internet speed benchmark application, said that Internet broadband, mostly, is in good shape.

"There is the core of the internet, which I think is fine," Suttles told ABC News. But his company's data shows problems are popping up in residential communities because "the internet built around them is not built for this usage."

"Everyone's working from home, there's lots of video consumption, video conferencing," he added. "We've seen, in select areas, a much larger degradation in performance, specifically in residential areas -- dense, residential communities. The commuters are all at home."

ISPs prepare for peak consumption in evening, when everyone's typically home, not such an all-day "overdrive," he said.

What's causing that increase in demand? Suttles said it's video conferencing, which "has a much greater impact on upload [speed]," he said.

Paul Carter, CEO of Global Wireless Solutions, said his company has also been keeping track of usage patterns, in particular cellular networks. He likened the current demand for connectivity to Super Bowl Sunday.

"When it's time for the Super Bowl, operators spend millions of dollars [to meet demand]. Now, it's like the whole country is kind of like the Super Bowl," Carter said to ABC News.

He said COVID-19 has placed unique demands on carriers.

"Now, all of a sudden, everything has been turned on its head. There is a lot less mobility, people are sheltering at home, often in suburban areas. People are spending more time on their devices," he continued. "There's a blur between personal and work use. Currently, people are starting their day maybe earlier, so that the workday is longer. You are at home for the whole time, so you are doing more activities on your phone."

Carter said network operators are seeing a spike in voice communications, particularly with Wi-Fi calling, in some cases a "75 to 100% increase."

"You are using your home broadband to make the initial connection, and then it's forwarded by your cellular service provider," Carter added.

But he said he's optimistic carriers can meet the demand.

"They have been preparing for 5G, not just on the front end but on the back end, the core network," he said. "So they have been building capacity into the network. Wireless network operators are working hard to fill [performance] holes, but it's a testament to them that the networks are holding up so well already."

In the case of dense residential areas that may not get the same performance as larger, urban areas, Suttles suggested operators may resort to throttling bandwidth, as was done recently in the EU.

Zoom, a video conferencing platform, has seen such an increase in demand that its stock rose earlier this month, despite Wall Street's rollercoaster performance.

“We are confident that our architecture is built to handle these growing levels of activity. Our unified communications platform is architected from the ground up to address the most technologically difficult aspect of communications: video,” Zoom said in a statement to ABC News.

In the meantime, non-commuters can take steps to bolster their bandwidth while working from home. Suttles suggested using a combination of cellular and home broadband, especially since cellular networks are seeing less of a surge in demand.

"Tether your laptop, or one of your devices to [cellular], then [other devices to broadband] to spread the load," he advised. "Perhaps if Zoom works great over [cellular], use that one computer connected to your phone for that Zoom call. Figure out which of your connections are best."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


JLGutierrez/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis are gripping the nation: One in three Americans in an ABC News/Washington Post poll say they or an immediate family member have been laid off or lost their job as a result of the pandemic, and more – half – report a cut in pay or work hours.

Beyond those stark realities, worries for the future are profound. A nearly unanimous 92% expect a recession because of the outbreak, with 59% calling this not just likely, but very likely. If one occurs, two-thirds think it will be as bad as the Great Recession, or worse. Already, in interviews Sunday through Wednesday, 43% say the economic impacts on their own community are severe.

The survey’s result on job losses is reflected in the unprecedented level of new unemployment claims reported today by the federal government. But the claims data don’t reflect the broader public fears. Among those who haven’t yet experienced a job loss in their immediate family, 58% are concerned about it occurring. And 53% are concerned their family will be hit with pay cuts or reduced work hours.

The net totals mean that 71% of Americans either have had a layoff or job loss occur as a result of the pandemic, or are concerned about this; and 76% either have lost pay or work hours, or are concerned that this may happen.

Further, the survey finds higher levels of job losses and pay cuts among the most economically at-risk Americans: those with lower incomes, racial and ethnic minorities and, specifically in terms of job losses, women who lack a four-year college degree.

On another front, the public expresses broad support for some elements of the economic stimulus package approved unanimously by the Senate last night. Eighty-six percent back cash payments to most Americans and 90% support billions in aid to small businesses, with bipartisan views on both. Assistance for large corporations is far less popular, with support dropping to 46%.

Most interviews for this national survey were conducted Sunday and Monday in order to avoid potential call center shutdowns; the results are a portrait in time in the fast-moving crisis. While this report focuses on economic impacts, further results tomorrow morning will look at personal impacts and other issues related to the pandemic. The survey was produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.

Who's hit?

As noted, economic impacts differ among groups. While 33% of Americans overall say they or someone in their immediate family has been laid off or lost a job as a result of the crisis, it’s four in 10 among ethnic and racial minorities (including 41% of Hispanics and 39% among blacks) vs. 29% among whites.

Similarly, among those with household incomes less than $50,000, 39% report a layoff or job loss, compared with 30% of those in the $50,000-$100,000 bracket and 21% of those with incomes of $100,000 or more.

The gender division also is significant, with reports of job losses or layoffs higher among women than men, 37 vs. 28%. That’s entirely due to the high level of job loss experiences among women who don’t have a college degree, 41%.

Reflecting these demographic differences, the job loss number is lower among Republicans, 25%, than among independents or Democrats, 35 and 34%, respectively.

There also are gaps among these groups – generally not as large – in who’s sustained a pay cut or a reduction in work hours. Here the big hit is among younger adults: Among those age 18-29, a broad 66% say they or someone in their immediate family has had their pay or work hours cut. It’s 59% among adults in their 30s and 47% among those age 40-64.

Differences are especially profound, moreover, in terms of who’s worried about a job loss in their immediate family (excluding those who’ve already experienced it): Seventy-one percent of racial and ethnic minorities have this worry, vs. 51% of whites; 63% of those with incomes less than $100,000 vs. 43% of those with higher incomes; and 70% among Democrats vs. 44% among Republicans (with independents in the middle in terms of this worry, 59%.) Results in concerns about a pay cut are generally similar.

Further, concern about job loss is higher in harder-hit states, reaching 64% of those in states with 1,000 diagnosed cases as of Sunday (when interviewing began), declining to 47% among those in states with fewer than 200 cases at that time.


Recession fears reflect local impacts. As noted, 43% say the coronavirus already has had a severe economic impact on their community (including 16% who say it’s very severe). Those who report a severe economic impact are far more likely than others to see a recession as very likely (71 vs. 47%), and more than twice as likely to think it’ll be worse than the Great Recession (47 vs. 22%).

Reports of severe economic impacts of the crisis peak in urban areas, at 51%, declining to 40% in the suburbs and 35% in rural areas. More people in the West reported severe economic impacts at the time of these interviews, 51%, vs. a low of 38% in the Midwest.

There also are political and racial or ethnic divisions on local impacts. Nearly half of Democrats and independents alike report severe economic impacts in their communities, vs. 32% of Republicans; and 51% of racial and ethnic minorities see severe impacts, vs. 39% of whites.

Beyond differing perceptions, this could reflect a difference in the distribution of virus impacts – greater in urban areas, as noted, where more Democrats and minority group members reside – as well as greater economic vulnerability in those groups. Indeed, 44% of Democrats live in one of the states with mandatory business closures at the start of these interviews, compared with 33% of independents and 23% of Republicans.


This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone March 22-25, 2020, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,003 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 30-24-37%, Democrats-Republicans-independents.

The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling and data collection by Abt Associates of Rockville, Md. See details on the survey’s methodology here.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Good Morning America(NEW YORK) -- As the novel coronavirus spreads across the country, the financial impact of the pandemic continues to devastate workers and small businesses.

A record number of workers -- 3.28 million -- filed for unemployment claims in the week ending March 21, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday. Average weekly claims total 200,000.

The Senate passed a massive $2 trillion stimulus bill that will provide expanded unemployment insurance for workers, emergency loans for small businesses and $1,200 to taxpayers earning $75,000 or less per year.

“Good Morning America” asked "Shark Tank" star and financial guru, Barbara Corcoran, to answer questions from small business owners on how to weather the storm.

Corcoran said it's time to pinpoint where your money is going and prioritize rent, mortgage payments and essentials.

“There are a lot of people that feel like they’re going to get great benefits from the government, and it’s good to have help from the government … but, it’s not a lot of money. You haven't won the lottery,” said Corcoran. "You're going to have to learn how to spread out your money. Make the rent and mortgage payments as your No. 1 priority and you do that because it's simply easier to replace a credit card than it is to replace a home."

She continued, "Comb through all of your bills, all of your credit card statements to see where you're actually spending your cash and then decide to only spend it on essentials. Because this is a time for self-restriction and discipline."

With all of this uncertainty, Corcoran answered questions from small business owners. Read on to get her expert advice below:

1. I own a catering company and we are in some crazy times right now. What would be the best way to use this stimulus money that we're being promised without falling deeper into debt - because you know, Uncle Sam is going to want his currency back. - Millie

Well, I think, Millie, you’re in the spot of every small business owner. If you’re going to save your business, it’s not going to be with a stimulus package. It’s going to be through hard work and making really tough decisions. If you decide to take the stimulus package loan, which is very favorable to small business, you’re going to need to keep your employees on the payroll, whoever they are. Rehire the people you’ve already let go, if you’ve already let go, and if you don’t, that loan is not going to be forgiven. You’re going to have to work like crazy to pay it back. I would think long and hard before taking any money if you’re not sure your business is going to [be able to] pay it back.

2. I own a small online luxury jewelry business. Every month, we spend money on Facebook and Instagram ads. We're wondering if we should turn all of our ads off and save our money or if we should pivot our message to speak about what's going on now. What do you think? - Jennifer

Well, Jennifer, lucky for you that you’re in the luxury market. In the luxury market, the customer has time on their hands, like everybody else does [now]. Everybody wants a great deal, so you have to make sure what you’re offering is not your usual stuff, but a really great deal. If you have the advertising dollars to still spend, consider yourself lucky -- a lot of people don’t. You should really be staying on top of Facebook and Instagram analytics and reporting to yourself daily, “What kind of return am I getting? Am I getting that bang for my buck that I deserve if I’m spending these advertising dollars?” But if you hustle, give a discount and stay on top of your analytics, you are one of the lucky people that should really sail through this hard time.

3. [Since] the corona virus outbreak, several events we had planned over the next few weeks and months have been postponed and canceled. I'm concerned about my employees who are paid on a 1099 basis, based on the hours that they work at each event. How can I look out for them? - Mary Grace

Well, Mary Grace, it sounds like you're a phenomenal boss and I understand and I get it. I’ve thought of all my people who have ever worked for me as my kids! I felt responsible for them. But here’s what I learned: you can only do so much. What you can do is that you can be honest and direct with your employees -- just tell them like it is. The good news for you, which you may not be aware of yet, is that you have help coming your way with the new stimulus package. Most people are included, including independent contractors, and that’s never happened before. You should stay on top of what qualifies [your employees] for what benefits and keep them totally informed. Last, so importantly, you should stay in touch with [your employees]. You don’t always have to give employees the answers they want to hear, but they want to be loved, they want to be cared for and they want to be in touch with you. You’re going to want to keep their morale up. You sound just the kind of person who is able to do that.

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


glegorly/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The coronavirus pandemic has quickly evolved from a health crisis to a financial one, shuttering businesses, upending entire industries and sending financial markets reeling.

Here's the latest news on how the COVID-19 crisis is affecting the economy. For more on financial resources available during the pandemic, click here.

Markets continue to rally

U.S. financial markets marched higher on Thursday despite the soaring unemployment numbers.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up more than 1,350 points, or 6.3%, while the S&P 500 gained 6.2% and the Nasdaq rose 5.6%.

The equities rally Thursday builds off of back-to-back gains on Wednesday and Tuesday. Lawmakers announced on Wednesday they'd reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package to help buoy the economy.

U.S. equity markets have seesawed for weeks as the COVID-19 outbreak has sowed uncertainty among investors. All three major U.S. indices plunged into bear market territory amid the pandemic.

Orange juice prices skyrocket

Orange juice futures have spiked more than 20% over the past month, as the global health crisis possibly has people seeking more doses of vitamin C.

"Industry sources suggest that demand has improved as consumers are returning" to frozen concentrated orange juice, Jack Scoville, vice president at the Price Futures Group, wrote in a memo Thursday. "The increased demand has really turned the market around."

"Crop yields and quality should be high for Florida this year," he added.

Record number of Americans file for unemployment

A record number of workers -- 3.28 million -- filed unemployment claims in the week ending March 21, according to U.S. Department of Labor data released Thursday.

That's an increase of 3 million from the previous week.

Among the hardest hit sectors was the service industry, particularly accommodation and food service. Nearly every state cited COVID-19 as the reason for skyrocketing claims.

Health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing or manufacturing industries were also heavily impacted, the Labor Department said.

Thousands of businesses have been forced to close amid government-mandated stay-in-place orders.

The staggering figure comes as the unemployment rate was near a 50-year low just weeks ago.

The previous record for weekly unemployment filings was 695,000 in 1982. Thursday's total is three times the combined number of people employed by Apple, Target, General Motors, Boeing and McDonalds.

"The coronavirus outbreak is a truly unprecedented event in American economic history, flash-freezing the economy by forcing businesses to shut down and putting millions of American workers out of jobs," Daniel Zhao, Glassdoor's senior economist, said in a statement Thursday.

"Most historical comparisons of this scale are inadequate. The closest would be natural disasters like major hurricanes," he added. "However, as today's report shows, the coronavirus outbreak is economically akin to a major hurricane occurring in every state around the country for weeks on end."

Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


fergregory/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Last Monday, when the governor of Vermont issued an order banning gatherings of 50 or more people, the leadership team at Northern Stage in White River Junction knew what they had to do.

They had been planning for this incredibly tough moment as COVID-19 spread across the country.

The team called a full company meeting with all the actors, staff and stagehands and alerted the group of 45 that the theater would shut its doors immediately.

"It was just heartbreaking," production manager Jess Johnston said. "It was the worse day of most of our lives … we have all poured so many years into this organization. The company is a linchpin for our town."

Similar scenes have played out on stages across the country over the last two weeks.

The financial losses to the art and theater community are hard to calculate, with so many different business models. The art world is a hodgepodge of nonprofits and commercial enterprises of all shapes and sizes. A study last week from Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization, estimated that the theater and arts industry has already lost $3 billion in the wake of the current public health and economic crisis.

Much of the discussion in Washington has focused on the economic impact on restaurants, bars, travel companies and hotels. But the latest stimulus package passed in the Senate this week did include $25 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as well an additional $75 million in grants available through the National Endowment for the Arts.

"Theater is about being together, being in community together, experiencing stories together," Simon Godwin, the artistic director at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., told ABC News.

The only remedy prescribed to fight this virus -- so far -- has been an end to socializing.

Like Northern Stage, thousands of theaters closed shows midweek and canceled remaining productions. They suspended upcoming seasons indefinitely. Subscriptions and ticket sales have been refunded and there have been massive lay-offs in all 50 states.

"Basically everyone I know has lost their jobs. All of my loved ones are out of work," Johnston said. "The unemployment in my industry across the country is hard to wrap my brain around."

Johnston's theater is a mid-sized regional nonprofit with about a $4 million annual operating budget. The world premiere of "Citrus," a play about African-American history, debuted at the theater this month.

Johnston and others made the decision to pay the actors in "Citrus" through the end of the show’s scheduled run, but they canceled the contracts for the actors who had already been cast in the next production. The playhouse’s senior staff and department heads took a pay cut. A few other people were kept on, mainly for part-time administrative work. Other than that, all staff stagehands and crews -- dozens of carpenters, electricians, prop masters and dressers, who keep the lights on and get the each shows onstage each week -- were furloughed and advised to file for unemployment with the state.

In a normal year, most of those men and women earn a rather modest salary of about $30,000 from the theater. Many are younger professionals, and, according to Johnston, have left Vermont and scattered across the country to move back in with their parents.

Others who have roots in the community are hunkering down and relying on a sense of togetherness that is unique and profound among artists.

"No one is immune right now and in a way there is something beautiful in that," Johnston said.

Johnston worried about one staff member who had just bought a house.

"People have a good attitude right now, but I worry so much about people on my team who live paycheck to paycheck ... in three weeks, how are they going to be able to afford to eat?" she said.

Artists and theater employees know that convincing theatergoers to come back to see a show could take time.

"If people are scared to be in a room together, you can't just snap your fingers and tell people it is safe," Johnston said.

Jeannie Naughton lives in New Jersey but has worked on Broadway for more than 25 years as a dresser. She maintains costumes for some of Broadway’s biggest stars and executes the complicated costume changes backstage. She recently took a leave from the Broadway production of "Hamilton" to dress Patti LuPone in her revival of "Company," which was set to open on Broadway last Sunday. Like her colleagues, she is in a holding pattern.

Her husband is an actor and while they have some savings, she is worried he may not qualify for unemployment with the state of New Jersey. Her family is hoping New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy might be able to work out a deal with banks to put mortgage payments on hold.

"There is a residual feeling of being overwhelmed," she said. "We are following everything we have been told to do the best we can, but the uncertainty prays on your head and stress comes out."

Like thousands of other artists who work in theaters across the country, Naughton receives health insurance benefits through her union, New York’s Theatrical Wardrobe Union, Local 764. As is common practice in the industry, artists must work a certain number of weeks per quarter to qualify and be eligible for benefits. With production schedules so uncertain right now, there is added anxiety for all union members.

Naughton’s union worked alongside several others to negotiate a deal last week with the Broadway League of producers and theaters to guarantee a few weeks of emergency wages and health insurance benefits for those who were instantly out of work.

She said her "Ham Fam," a group of colleagues who worked together on "Hamilton," has started a conference call at midnight to gather and talk and offer support.

Amber White, the production stage manager on "Hamilton," said theater people are used to weird hours as well as the inherent uncertainty in their work.

"We are freelancers at heart ... independent contractors, paid for work we do, hours we work -- that’s it," she told ABC News.

While White has worked on "Hamilton" for the last several years, she said this moment has been a reminder of a deep truth all artists know well: paid work can come and go.

"No matter how secure you feel, anything can happen any moment," she said. "If this has had happened to me 20 years ago, I don't know where I wold be. I am very fortune we have been doing this for long enough to have a little savings."

At best, most people in theater work show-to-show, season-by-season. Long-term employment can be rare. There is a sensibility and mindset that comes with the business that she and Naughton agree will help artists weather this moment.

"It’s the trick of being an artist: balancing making art with making a living," White said. "We have to figure out how to feed ourselves our way."

"Once we get out of our cloud of fear and anxiety, out of our bouts of depression, which we always do," White added. "We gravitate towards creating life and work for ourselves. We are malleable."

At home, Naughton has put her sewing skills toward a new mission: making surgical masks for a local hospital to extend the lives of disposable masks that doctors and nurses desperately need right now.

"I want to have a purpose, if I can help our people feel on the front lines .... plus, people in theater have a wellspring of creativity and troubleshooting and problem-solving skills," she said.

The Shakespeare Theater Company is experimenting with moving some of its programming online. It is hosting virtual happy hours and will likely offer lectures in the coming weeks. Other artists have launched online dance classes and workshops teaching crafts to kids.

Those artists fortunate enough to work on productions as popular as “Hamilton” can at least expect their shows will reopen and their incomes will return as soon as people can gather safely again. But many others in the business are just not that lucky. Some productions, even ones slated for the big lights of Broadway, are completely up in the air right now.

On Tuesday, the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS’ nonprofit announced that more than 20 producers had offered a $1 million challenge to match donations to a new COVID-19 Emergency Assistance Fund for those in the business.

"With every passing day that theaters remain dark, entertainment professionals face unprecedented health and financial challenges requiring immediate attention and resources," the announcement read.

"The anxiety level across city and country is intense," Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares, said. "We are all looking at an uncertain future that could last months down the road."

He said he worries about the ushers, bartenders and people who sell merchandise in the lobbies.

"Some of the best work we do is help people navigate intense bureaucracy that exists around hospitals and government services," he said.

Back in Vermont, Johnston said her theater could really suffer if donations dried up. More than half of the theater's revenue comes from grants and contributions.

The Shakespeare Theatre Company has found success by asking supporters to give now rather than later. "It’s an act of faith from supporters and a promise from us," Godwin said.

Godwin noted that William Shakespeare's own theater was often closed during the plague.

"He would go to the countryside to write. His vaccine was poetry," Godwin noted. "We have to keep the faith and be creative … there will be a renewed appetite soon enough for a shared experience, that feeling of being present alongside other human beings."

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