Jersey Lilly bartender Frank Kerp was still at work Wednesday, but he’ll be home Thursday.
And the next day. And the one after that.
In fact Kerp, who ordinarily works part time, now only works on Wednesdays.
At Logger’s Tap House, owner Sam Gross said he’s had to lay off half of his 40-person staff. Business is down, at the restaurant which is now a takeout and delivery only business only. Business was down 60% Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday were a bit better. Depending what happens next, more layoffs could be ahead.
“It looks like my family and I will be working for free for awhile to make sure we don’t run out of cash. When a business runs out of cash, it is out of business,” Gross said.
All restaurants and bars were closed by order of the governor Monday, but restaurants are allowed to offer takeout service.
The state Legislature is scrambling to help workers and small business owners, in addition to the increasing numbers of people they expect to contract the illness. A newly formed Joint Special Committee on Coronavirus Response held its first meeting at the Capitol Wednesday, and among those testifying were representatives of unions, the restaurant industry and other businesses.
While they were meeting, Kerp was cooking, taking calls and filling orders as well as keeping Jersey Lilly clean.
There were not as many calls for takeout as he’d like to have, but he was hopeful business would pick up as more customers became aware they were still offering food to go.
Kerp’s wife, Devon Schneider, is a nurse for Nova Health in Cottage Grove and has no shortage of work during the COVID-19 crisis. Kerp thinks they’ll be able to weather the storm financially.
“It’ll be rough, but not the end of the world for us, luckily, because I know other people are going to be more impacted by it than myself,” he said.
Gross hopes the state and federal governments will step in to make things right for businesses and their workers.
“While the coronavirus is nobody’s fault, it was the state’s decision to restrict dine-in business. We expect that the laid-off employees, those with reduced hours, and the owners of those businesses be made whole by the state and federal government,” he said in an email.
He said he hopes it’s not just large corporations who get bailed out, while small businesses have to make do with low-interest loans.
Joint Special Committee on Coronavirus Response Co-Chairman Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said the committee’s work will lead to a special session of the entire Legislature where new policies can be enacted. The goal is to figure out not only how to address the current crisis, but also help with the state’s recovery later.
“That’s what we’re here to do, take care of Oregonians,” he said.
AFL-CIO President Graham Trainor urged the committee to make rules to help low-income workers, who he said are least able to telecommute and most vulnerable to losing their jobs. These workers also do not have enough sick leave, often just 40 hours a year, which is not enough to cover them if they contract the coronavirus, he said.
The AFL-CIO and SEIU Local 503 are recommending that workers have better access to unemployment insurance and that their expenses for food, housing and healthcare be covered if they are unable to work or lose their jobs due to the crisis.
Oregon must collectively act with boldness and compassion in these trying times, Trainor said.
Jason Brandt, a representative of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association, urged the committee to approve an immediate infusion of cash for workers who are losing their jobs.
Restaurants employ 155,000 people across the state, he said. With new rules closing restaurants except for takeout and delivery it’s uncertain how many of these businesses will close for good and most will at least close temporarily or cut all but kitchen staff.
Sandra McDonough of Oregon Business and Industry also urged the committee to make it easier for workers to access unemployment benefits, as well as to protect small businesses through loans and delaying payments under the new Corporate Activity Tax.
Nik Blosser, with the governor’s office, said the governor’s focus is on increasing testing capacity, hospital capacity and the supply of personal protective equipment such as masks for healthcare workers.
Other priorities are ensuring that workers who lose their jobs have what they need to buy food and remain in their housing, and that businesses survive the crisis.
Elana Pirtle-Guiney, legislative director for the governor’s office, said housing assistance could come in the form of rental or mortgage assistance and a moratorium on evictions.
Blosser said another concern for the state is that economic activity plummets and recession is expected, the state will have less money at the same time its spending needs increase.
“Our needs will far outweigh our resources,” Blosser said.
Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, said the state is working to increase hospital beds and staffing, including bringing in retired health care workers and volunteers.
Allen also said the amount of testing statewide has increased to 1,200 tests per week and will soon be up to about 2,000 per week. People experiencing symptoms should call their health care providers, who will determine whether they should be tested.
About 20% of those who contract the illness require medical intervention, and between 5 and 8% require ICU-level care, Allen said.
As of Thursday, 88 Oregonians had tested positive for COVID-19, and three of them had died. Douglas County still had only one person who had tested positive.