Luke Bosso, chief of staff for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, saw firsthand how difficult it was for the state to get enough PPE to hospitals at the height of the outbreak. If he was having a hard time buying 1 million masks, negotiating with domestic and international vendors, surely small businesses throughout the state were going to have trouble finding 10 masks, he thought.
Earlier this month, the state launched an exchange for businesses with fewer than 150 employees to receive free bundles of nonmedical-grade face masks, hand sanitizer and face shields.
"We recognize this is really new for companies in the United States, to have their employees wear masks and have hand sanitizer readily available," he said. "Anytime you open a new supply chain, you're going to have some difficulty procuring that stuff."
Ten days into its effort, the state has provided packages of safety supplies to 20,000 local businesses. The state will keep its marketplace open until at least mid-June, Bosso said, with the goal of serving 50,000 small businesses. The state is using federal CARES Act dollars.
Similar efforts are underway at local levels.
As Orange County, Fla., planned for its Orlando-area businesses to reopen, Danny Banks, the county's director of public safety, heard from many businessowners who could not find masks and hand sanitizer for their employees. Several of their workers, he heard, threatened not to come back unless they had safety equipment.
Wary of infection numbers going up, the county decided to procure the safety supplies itself and provide them to businesses. In the past week, 100 county employees, mobilized from various departments, moved 1.8 million masks and 225,000 small bottles of hand sanitizer to 12,000 local businesses, from barbershops to nail salons to small grocery stores.
For businesses that have struggled to pay rent or furloughed employees, the supplies are like a shot in the arm, Banks said.
"We've got an opportunity to help small businesses reopen," he said, "but we really have a responsibility to help them reopen safely."
Employee safety has been a top concern for Sheldon Lloyd, CEO and co-owner of City Fresh Foods, a Roxbury, Massachusetts-based caterer with 130 employees that hires from and serves low-income communities in the Boston region.