COVID-19 News Updates 3-19

March 19, 2020

Here’s a round up of COVID-19 related news for 3-19-20. See our Coronavirus Resource Guide for extensive resources and information.
SBA Disaster Loans Now Available

See our blog post for details and FAQs

County Declaration Mandates Expansion of Social Distancing, Closes Certain Businesses

As part of Buncombe County’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be increased measures as part of a Local State of Emergency Supplemental Declaration to decrease the risk of exposure and limit the spread of COVID-19 in Buncombe County through social distancing. The declaration mandates the closure of specific businesses and entertainment venues and limiting public gatherings to no more than 10 people. This order applies to all of Buncombe County and its six municipalities and is effective Thursday, March 19 at 5 p.m.

Buncombe County Public Health has determined an imminent hazard exists, and this is a critical step aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 by minimizing contact within a range of six feet for a duration of at least ten minutes. This Declaration applies to gyms, fitness centers and exercise facilities, indoor pools, spas, movie theaters, live performance venues and arcades.

This declaration does not include grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, hardware markets, gas stations, farmers markets, and food distribution sites selling prepared food. “These are locations where the public are not generally in close contact with other patrons,” said Tove.

Also, the limitation on gatherings of 10 people does not include normal operations at medical facilities, airports, bus and train stations, shopping malls, office environments, factories, and child care centers.

Please be aware, this order is more restrictive than Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 118 in regards to restaurant, bar, and brewery operations, in that it also limits outdoor gathering to 10 people or less, regardless of available space.

Buncombe County thanks you in advance for understanding this order is imperative to protect our community’s most vulnerable people while preventing the spread of COVID-19.

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Sign up for County Alerts

Get regular alerts from Buncombe County government. Text the word BCALERT to the number 888777.  (If you haven’t done this before, enter 888777 where you would normally enter the phone number you’re texting to and the word BCALERT where the message goes).  Make sure you spell BCALERT correctly and that it is in all caps.

You should receive a text back that asks for your zip code.  Text your zip code back.  You’ll then get one more text that will ask for an email address.  Text your email address back.

Signing up for these alerts is the best way for health officials to get current, important information out to you.  Please, if you haven’t signed up, go back and do it.  Also, please share this with your friends.

IRS Formal Announcement – Modifications, Additions, Confirmations (info provided by Johnson Price Sprinkle PA)

Late on March 18, the IRS released Notice 2020-17 containing details about the income tax payment extension previously announced by Treasury Secretary Mnuchin. The Notice clarifies and expands the scope and nature of the payment extension as previously understood.

  • All taxpayers with Federal income tax payments due on April 15, 2020, are granted an automatic payment extension until July 15, 2020, and no penalties or interest will accrue during this period.
  • Affected C corporations are granted this relief for amounts owed up to $10 million.
  • All other taxpayers, including trusts and estates, are granted this relief for amounts owed up to $1 million.
  • The relief is solely for income and self-employment tax payments; other taxes such as payroll taxes must continue to be remitted timely in order to avoid penalties and interest.
  • The relief also applies to first quarter 2020 estimated income (and self-employment) tax payments, as those are also typically due April 15.

The deadline for filing a tax return is still April 15. Taxpayers that need more time to ensure their balance due is accurate may wish to obtain an extension. Extensions still need to be filed by April 15, but the associated balance due is postponed until July 15.

Keep in mind that many states, including North Carolina, have not yet provided payment relief beyond April 15.  Also, the American Institute of CPAs and other organizations continue to press the IRS to also extend the federal filing deadline.

President Trump signs family and medical leave expansion, paid leave into law (summarized from Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP)

Yesterday the U.S. Senate passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and President Trump reportedly signed it into law last night. Parts of the law expand the Family and Medical Leave Act, and require employers of fewer than 500 employees to provide paid leave, for certain time off related to coronavirus.

The final version of the FMLA expansion and paid leave legislation is identical to a narrower version that was passed by the House on Monday. The House had passed a much broader version over the weekend. The final version of the FMLA and paid leave provisions will take effect 15 days after enactment, which would appear to be April 1. Both provisions will expire after December 31, 2020.

In addition to the expansion of family and medical leave, and the requirement to provide paid leave, the Families First Act also provides for federal grants to state unemployment funds under certain circumstances, and allows employers to apply for tax credits to offset the cost of the paid leave.

The following is a summary of the provisions pertaining to family and medical leave, and to the paid leave requirements:

  • Employees are eligible for coronavirus-related FMLA leave after being employed by the employer for 30 calendar days.
  • In addition to the reasons set forth in the existing FMLA, eligible employees will be allowed to take leave for a “qualifying need due to a public health emergency.” However, the only “qualifying need” in the final version of the legislation is that the employee is unable to work or telework because the employee’s son or daughter under age 18 is home due to a school or child care center closure, or due to unavailability of a child care provider, because of a COVID-19 emergency.
  • The first 10 days of COVID-19 leave may be unpaid, although employees would have the option to substitute accrued paid vacation, personal leave, or medical or sick leave.

After the first 10 days, the employer is required to pay for the leave, as follows:

  • Under normal circumstances, the paid leave would be two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate, multiplied by the number of hours that the employee would normally be scheduled to work.
  • The amount of paid leave is capped at $200 a day, and $10,000 in the aggregate.
  • If the employee works variable hours, the employer should calculate the average number of hours that the employee was scheduled to work for the six-month period ending on the date that the leave begins. This calculation must include hours for which the employee took “leave of any type.”
  • If the employee works variable hours but has not worked for the employer for six months, the employer must use the number of hours that the employee reasonably would have expected to work at the time of hire.

The “restoration” requirements are the same as those in the weekend version of the legislation. Generally, the employee must be restored to his or her job at the end of leave, or to a “substantially equivalent” position. However, if the employer has fewer than 25 employees, it will be excused from the restoration requirement in some circumstances.

Under the final version of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, paid sick leave is required when an employee is unable to work or telework due to quarantine, COVID-19 symptoms, caring for child if school or child care is closed due to COVID-19 precautions.

Full-time employees can receive a maximum of 80 hours (two workweeks) of paid leave. The entitlement for part-time employees is based on the number of hours worked, on average, in a two-week period. For employees with variable hours, the number of hours is calculated the same way it is for COVID-19 FMLA leave.

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