COVID-19 News Updates: 6/5/20

June 5, 2020

Here’s a round up of COVID-19 related news for 6/5/20. See our Coronavirus Resource Guide for extensive resources and information.

Extra PPP funding available via Self-Help Credit Union

Self-Help Credit Union announced earlier this week that they still have additional PPP funding available for businesses affected by the COVID-19. For the remainder of the loan funds that they have, Self-Help will continue to prioritize supporting bowers with businesses or nonprofits that are run people of color or women, and/or serve low-income or rural communities. Read the Asheville Chamber’s guide to understanding what a PPP loan is and how it can help your business. When you’re ready to apply via Self-Help, contact Jane Hatley.

Governor Cooper extends eviction and utility shutoff moratorium

This past weekend, Governor Cooper issued Executive Order No. 142 to continue the moratorium on evictions and utility shutoffs. In a press release, he said that  “North Carolinians need relief to help make ends meet during the pandemic. Extending housing and utility protections will mean more people can stay in their homes and stay safe as we all work to slow the spread of this virus.” Under the original moratorium, utility disconnections are prohibited for all customers, late fees, penalties, and failure to pay charges are suspended, and repayment plans are extended at least six months.

More information can be found in the FAQ document or read Executive Order 142.

Guidance for N.C. schools expected next week

State health and education leaders will release guidance next week on how North Carolina public schools can reopen next school year from the coronavirus pandemic. All North Carolina public schools have been closed since mid-March to try to slow the spread of COVID-19; as of right now, it’s unclear when they will be allowed to reopen for in-person instruction and what new measures will be needed to deal with the pandemic. To deal with this issue, State Superintendent Mark Johnson has formeed the N.C. Schools Reopening Task Force to discuss ways to address some of those considerations. Currently, the task force is working on health guidance focusing on five areas: social distancing; cleaning/hygiene; monitoring health of students and staff; protecting high-risk populations; and education students and staff. 

Senate passes H.R. 7010, a bill that will relax several terms of Paycheck Protection Program loans (PPP).

This week, the U.S. House and Senate unanimously approved H.R. 7010, which will alter several critical terms of the PPP. The bill is designed to provide additional needed relief for borrowers as they seek forgiveness of their loan amounts. Some of the changes that the bill will make to PPP, if passed:

  • PPP borrowers can choose to extend the eight-week period to 24 weeks, or they can keep the original eight-week period. This flexibility is designed to make it easier for more borrowers to reach full, or almost full, forgiveness.
  • The payroll expenditure requirement drops to 60% from 75%, but is now a cliff, meaning that borrowers must spend at least 60% on payroll or none of the loan will be forgiven. Currently, a borrower is required to reduce the amount eligible for forgiveness if less than 75% of eligible funds are used for payroll costs, but forgiveness isn’t eliminated if the 75% threshold isn’t met.
  • Borrowers can use the 24-week period to restore their workforce levels and wages to the pre-pandemic levels required for full forgiveness. This must be done by Dec. 31, a change from the previous deadline of June 30.
  • Borrowers now have 5 years to repay the loan instead of 2.

This is not a comprehensive list of what’s in the bill, which is now headed to the President’s desk for a signature. For local insight and updates, follow Johnson Price Sprinkle PA on Facebook.

City of Asheville announces expanded flexibility of sidewalk space, parklets, and more

In response to stakeholder input and public health guidance, the City is launching new initiatives to allow businesses and organizations to temporarily expand usage of outdoor spaces. Earlier this month, the City began allowing businesses to use private parking lots, landscape areas, walkways for dining and display. Today, they will begin accepting requests from businesses and organizations to temporarily use the public sidewalk directly adjacent to their storefront for merchandise display and outdoor dining, provided that the sidewalk maintains 6 feet of clear space for pedestrian passageway and temporary outdoor expansion guidelines for public sidewalks are followed. Businesses and organizations temporarily using adjacent public sidewalk areas will be required to maintain a continuous accessible route that meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. Click here to visit the online temporary outdoor expansion request form for public sidewalks.

The City’s Development Services Staff is standing by to answer questions (including determining whether space is public or private) and provide assistance, while ensuring a quick turnaround time for authorization. Staff is available at the Planner of the Day hotline, 828-259-5450.

In addition to the expanded sidewalk usage, they are also working toward launching an initial “batch” of shared streets in the next 2-3 weeks, beginning with The Block (focusing on S. Market Street). Other streets in the initial batch are Banks, Buxton, portions of Coxe, Wall Street, Church Street and a section of College StreetEmergency access, ADA accessibility, deliveries and local traffic will be maintained in these areas. Alongside the launch of shared streets, they will launch a parklet program in order to enable businesses and organizations to use nearby parking spaces for seating, merchandise or other uses in areas that are not included in the initial shared street locations (where they will already have that flexibility).

N.C. legislators aim to reopen gyms with new bill

Gyms and fitness centers would get relief from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s COVID-19 executive order that keeps them closed in a bill approved unanimously yesterday by a Senate committee. The bill would allow indoor gyms to reopen at 50% capacity, along with social distancing for those using equipment and fitness classes. Mandatory cleaning protocol is also included in the legislation. The Senate commerce panel backed the gym measure the day after hearing from club operators who are struggling to avoid permanent closure without customers since March, when they were first ordered closed.

New Executive Order will address disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color

Late yesterday, Governor Roy Cooper signed Executive Order 143 to addresses the social, environmental, economic, and health disparities in communities of color that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite making up 22 percent of North Carolina’s population, as of June 1, African Americans account for 30 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases and 34 percent of COVID-19 deaths in cases where race is known. Similarly, Hispanics account for 39% of confirmed COVID-19 cases, in cases where race or ethnicity is known, despite only making up about 10% of the population in North Carolina.

The Order directs state agencies and offices to provide targeted measures to help communities of color that have been affected by the pandemic.  To make sure all North Carolinians can recover physically and economically from the COVID-19 pandemic, this Order identifies specific actions North Carolina departments and agencies must take to eliminate disparities across sectors.

Here are a few of the main points in the order:

  • Establishes the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force to focus on economic stability, health disparities, and environmental justice in North Carolina
  • Tasks the North Carolina Pandemic Recovery Office to ensure the equitable distribution of pandemic relief funds
  • Directs the Historically Underutilized Business Office to provide small historically underutilized businesses with access to opportunities, tools, and resources that promote equitable economic recovery and procurement of State contracts

Read the full order here.

Bars file lawsuit against Governor Cooper in hopes of reopening sooner

A group of nearly 200 North Carolina bar owners filed a lawsuit against the governor seeking to be allowed to reopen immediately after being ordered to close since mid March. The lawsuit argues that the state’s lines between bars and restaurants was arbitrarily drawn, and asks for temporary restraining order. Governor Cooper commented in a recent press conference that it’s possible that a “Phase 2.5” will be created for bars and gyms at some point in the future, but provided no explicit details.