Coronavirus: A Guide for REALTOR® Associations
March 16, 2020
Why is NAR issuing this guidance?
In response to the growing concerns about COVID-19, commonly referred to as coronavirus, NAR is providing this guidance to help REALTOR® associations respond to the coronavirus's impact on the real estate industry. As of March 16, 2020, the United States government has banned all travel from Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland into the United States for a period of thirty (30) days. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued Level 3 Travel Warnings for China, Iran and South Korea, and a Level 2 Travel Health Notice all other global travel. The situation is rapidly evolving. Be sure to refer to the CDC's website for up-to-date information about travel warnings(link is external), as well as information about the coronavirus' current impact in the United States(link is external). Daily updates about the coronavirus are also available from the World Health Organization(link is external).
What is Coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that has infected more than 142,000 individuals in 134 countries, causing the World Health Organization (WHO) to classify this outbreak as a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Anyone experiencing emergency signs such as difficulty breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or bluish lips or face should immediately seek medical attention.
What is the risk of exposure to coronavirus?
Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person and the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The CDC urges citizens to monitor your health and practice social distancing. Social distancing means staying out of crowded places, avoiding group gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible. Visit the CDC's website (link is external)for latest updates.
What preventative measures may be taken to reduce the risk of contracting and spreading coronavirus?
The CDC urges individuals to take these measures to protect themselves and others:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Practice social distancing by staying out of crowded places, avoiding group gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet) from others when possible.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
- Stay home if you have a fever, cough, shortness of breath or any other cold or flu-like symptom.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
Additionally, to help prevent the continued spread of coronavirus, on March 15, 2020, the CDC recommended that for the next 8 weeks, all in-person events consisting of 50 or more people, such as conferences and assemblies, be canceled, postponed or modified to virtual events(link is external). On March 16, 2020, President Trump announced new guidelines, advising that individuals avoid groups of more than 10 people for the next 15 days. Avoiding these in-person gatherings is an effective measure that will reduce your risk of contracting or spreading coronavirus.
How should associations address staff travel?
Effective at midnight on March 16, 2020, the United States government has banned all travel from Europe, the United Kingdom and Ireland into the United States for a period of thirty (30) days. The CDC has issued a Level 3 Travel Health Warning for China, Iran and South Korea, and a Level 2 Travel Health Notice for all other global travel. Many U.S. companies have restricted all business travel, both domestic and international, for the time being. Consider whether your association should implement similar business travel restrictions, and whether such restrictions should apply to all domestic, as well as international, travel. Once these determinations are made, communicate the association's policy to staff, and appoint a contact to whom your staff can direct travel-related questions. Also, consider how to address staff's personal travel plans. For example, you may consider adopting a policy that requires all staff who have recently traveled to a location with reported outbreaks, or who have been in close contact with someone who has traveled to such a location, to work remotely for a specified period. Before returning to work, employees should confirm they are asymptomatic. If the employee shows symptoms of illness, consider extending the remote work period without penalty to the employee.
Should association events be canceled?
If the association has in-person events planned in the near future, the association should consider canceling the events. On March 15, 2020, the CDC recommended that events consisting of 50 or more persons be canceled, postponed or be made virtual, which was followed by President Trump’s announcement on March 16, 2020 recommending that individuals avoid groups of more than 10 people for the next 15 days. For events taking place in the near future that do not fall within the CDC’s recent recommendation or President Trump’s announcement, the association should consider the feasibility of holding the meeting or event virtually in order to limit in-person contact as much as possible. In all cases, associations should continue to monitor updates from the CDC, as well as state and local health authorities for the most up-to-date additional information and guidance on holding events in your geographic area.
Additionally, to help prevent the continued spread of coronavirus, on March 15, 2020, the CDC recommended that for the next 8 weeks, all in-person events consisting of 50 or more people, such as conferences and assemblies, be canceled, postponed or modified to virtual events(link is external).
What precautions should associations take in the workplace?
The CDC urges individuals to practice social distancing by avoiding close contact, so associations should seriously consider alternative work arrangements for employees, such as maximum flexibility or mandatory remote work, and holding virtual meetings. To prepare staff, distribute the association’s business continuity plan so staff is aware of and familiar with the association's policies and practices in the event they are unable to report to work or the association must conduct its business remotely. Consider scheduling a trial run in which all staff work from home for a "test" day to ensure the association's plan and systems are functioning properly.
Has NAR provided guidance for REALTORS® on coronavirus and its impact on their business?
Yes. Please refer members to NAR's "Coronavirus: A Guide for REALTORS®", dated March 16, 2020.
What else should associations consider in handling coronavirus?
First, implement a mandatory "stay-home" policy for employees exhibiting any signs of illness, and decide whether your staff will need to use "sick days" for the time off or be allowed to work remotely if they are well enough to do so. The CDC recommends that employers not require a healthcare provider's note for employees to return to work, since healthcare providers are inundated during this time. In addition, consider a policy that allows staff to stay home to care for sick family members and children, and to work as they are able, and be sure to communicate that policy in advance.
Second, provide staff with regular and clear updates on how the association is responding to this issue, and be sure staff knows where to address any questions or concerns.
Finally, do not panic, stay informed, and use your best judgment. The situation is rapidly changing, so focus on putting policies and procedures in place to keep your employees informed, safe, and to avoid business disruption. The CDC's Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers(link is external) is a helpful resource.