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On March 11, World Plumbing Day, the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 outbreak, which was previously classified as an epidemic, was officially a global pandemic with outbreaks exceeding 120,000 cases. Here in the U.S., 12 states had already declared a state of emergency, including New York, California, Florida and New Jersey. Two days later, President Trump issued a proclamation declaring a national emergency. However, even prior to those declarations, the implications of the COVID-19 for the plumbing industry were known to be profound. The extent that this has proved to be true over the course of the past month illustrates the vital nature of our industry to society. While lockdowns and social distancing provisions have been put in place across the globe, the plumbing industry has been identified as an essential service everywhere.
Over the past 30 days, IAPMO, along with our partners and many other plumbing-related organizations, has worked to provide needed information and guidance to plumbers and tradespeople everywhere. We’ve heard from colleagues in Canada, China, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand. We’ve worked with government entities, academia, public health officials, and businesses both large and small. All have been anxious to share information on their experiences, best practices, use of personal protection equipment (PPE), details on the transmissibility of the virus in water and plumbing systems, and countless other topics. I think we can all agree that we’ve collectively learned a lot through these exchanges.
The discussions that have hit home hardest have been with plumbing businesses that are extremely worried about protecting their plumbers and apprentices while they perform their services. We’ve heard questions about whether it’s safe to work on building water systems where ill people may reside or even simply to go into someone’s home. We’ve been asked about plumbers who are older and have various medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus. Of course, it’s not possible to provide assurances that all in the trade will remain well in the course of doing plumbing work. The 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease has proved to be highly transmissible and medical outcomes continue to confound researchers and health experts across the globe. Such discussions have been heartfelt and remind us of the personal connection we have in this amazing industry.
However, effective steps to battle the pandemic have been put in place and glimmers of hope are beginning to emerge. Around the globe, our social distancing efforts are starting to have an impact as we’re beginning to see regional reductions in new cases of COVID-19. Here in the U.S., all levels of government have stepped up to provide relief for consumers and struggling businesses. Congress acted swiftly by passing a $2 trillion relief package containing many provisions that can assist businesses in the plumbing industry.
To bridge the economy through this health crisis, the federal government has taken unprecedented steps to ensure businesses stay afloat while having access to the capital they need. This aid could not come fast enough, as new jobless claims reached more than 16 million over the past three weeks.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $350 billion to help small businesses keep workers employed amid the pandemic and economic downturn. Known as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the initiative provides 100 percent federally guaranteed loans to small businesses and nonprofits — all or part of which is forgivable. Small-business owners are also able to apply for low-interest Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) of up to $2 million that can provide critical support to help overcome the loss of revenue. Applicants may request an advance in the amount of $10,000 to be delivered within three days of the request. This advance may be used to provide sick leave to employees, maintain payroll, make rent or mortgage payments, or repay other obligations.
Additionally, the Federal Reserve took extraordinary steps and provided up to $2.3 trillion in additional loans to support the economy. This move helps ensure credit continues to flow to small and mid-size businesses with the purchase of up to $600 billion in loans through the new “Main Street Lending Program.” It also increases the flow of credit to households and businesses through capital markets by expanding the size and scope of the Primary and Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facilities (PMCCF and SMCCF), as well as the Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF). These three programs will now support up to $850 billion in credit backed by $85 billion in credit protection provided by the Treasury. Collectively these steps help ensure that individuals and businesses continue to have access to credit markets, unlike what happened during the Great Recession.
Even with these never-before-seen acts by the federal government, many more economic stimulus efforts are underway. Congress is drafting another stimulus package, which will be the fourth major piece of COVID-19 legislation. This next package will likely have a price tag up to approximately $1 trillion, with a significant focus on state and local governments, businesses and individuals. Additionally, congressional leaders are already discussing the need for fifth, sixth and potentially seventh major COVID-19 bills to bolster areas of our economy in need.
Similar relief programs have been developed in nations across the globe. There is still a long road ahead of us, but as we are seeing, the vital stakeholders from governments, along with leaders from the private sector, are all coming together to provide the resources needed to address this global crisis. We encourage all plumbing-related businesses to look into these programs and take advantage of the relief options that can help keep our industry strong.
As we all do our part to defeat COVID-19, we work toward a time when we will reopen long-shuttered buildings and buildings that have been sparsely utilized for many months. Stagnant water in building water systems must be safely exhausted and many building water systems will require purification. This needs to happen in a safe and systematic manner. The plumbing industry will again be called upon to play an important role, along with public health officials, water quality experts and water and wastewater utilities, in properly rehabilitating building water systems.
As we return to normalcy, there will be countless efforts to evaluate our global and regional responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, capture lessons learned and establish new best practices so that we are better prepared on a societal level to respond to future pandemics. Included in those lessons will be studies on how society relied on the plumbing industry to keep our homes and essential buildings safe during the pandemic and the critical role it will play in the weeks and months ahead while we reopen the buildings where we work, gather and socialize.
We encourage all to periodically check in and review IAPMO’s COVID-19 Resource Page: www.iapmo.org/ibu/whats-new/coronavirus-resources. We will continue to provide useful information relative to the plumbing and mechanical industries there. And finally, to our brothers and sisters around the world who are on the front lines fighting this pandemic, we say THANK YOU! You are all heroes!