The COVID-19 pandemic is having a severe impact on all aspects of life. Practically the entire world has been affected in some way or another and sadly, many people have died from complications of the disease. Between quarantines, business closures, and a lack of information about the virus itself, some countries are at a complete standstill. For some though, being stuck at home provides a unique opportunity to learn new skills and study in new areas. Online courses, such as those in accounting, are an interesting and useful way to pass the time while the world waits for this emergency to end.
What is COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
COVID-19 is an abbreviation for Coronavirus Disease 2019. Coronavirus is a term that refers to the shape of the virus itself. Other coronaviruses include some that cause the common cold, but there are many versions of the virus. The current coronavirus we’re dealing with is called SARS-CoV-2. This version, which appeared in 2019, has proven to be particularly contagious and hard to treat and track. The first cases were reported in Wuhan, China, but it’s unknown where it came from. Scientists believe it originated in an animal, some of which in the area are known reservoirs for SARS and other types of coronavirus, though this is a new type, previously unseen.
The coronavirus is spread through the inhalation of droplets from an infected person coughing or sneezing. The virus has been found to be able to stay in the air for several minutes to several hours and can survive on some surfaces for days. Additionally, those who are asymptomatic – those who have the virus but show no signs or symptoms – can also pass the virus along through breathing or talking.
As of April 10, 2020 there are over 489,504 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States with 17,991 deaths attributed to it. The virus is literally all over the country, even in remote areas such as Alaska. Anyone can contract the virus, and people of every age have died (including at least two infants and one child in the US), but people most susceptible to it are those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, those who are immunocompromised, and the elderly.
Why is it Dangerous?
There are many different coronavirus’ in the world, but this one is different. Most viruses have short viability periods and spread requires close personal contact with an infected person. However, COVID-19 can be spread between people who are up to six feet apart. An infected person might not know they are infected but can pass on the virus for nearly the entire time they have the virus. While those with the flu can infect 1 person during the 3-4 days they are contagious, those with COVID-19 affect 2+ on average. That’s more than double. Once you have it, it’s more deadly than the flu as well, which still kills people every year. And, even if you aren’t sick enough to die, you are much more likely to take up a hospital bed with COVID-19, meaning that others who need medical attention either cannot receive it, or face the risk of becoming sick with COVID-19 due to exposure.
Coronavirus Impact on Business
The impact of coronavirus on businesses is far reaching. Governments are shutting down businesses that aren’t considered essential in an attempt to keep the disease in check. This has led to millions of people applying for unemployment, either because they’ve been laid off from their jobs or been sent home because their business is not essential. Those who are still working have to take extra precautions to ensure their workspaces are as sanitary as possible. Industries such as personal care, food and beverage (restaurants), and non-grocery retail operations have taken huge hits because they’re services either aren’t considered essential or they pose a serious risk of spreading the virus.
Many states and counties have issued shelter-in-place orders for their residents. In most cases, this means people are to stay in their homes as much as possible and limit their contact with others. When a person does have to be in public, they are asked to practice what is called social, or physical, distancing. People should stay at least six feet apart whenever possible, and no more than 10 people should occupy the same space at the same time. Where people are allowed to go and what they can do varies by location, but generally, people living in shelter-in-place locations can go to the grocery store for essential items, are allowed to go outside for exercise or to walk the dog (provided they practice social distancing), attend work if their job is considered essential, and check on older loved ones, though visiting to elderly care homes has been limited or stopped altogether in many places to help protect this at risk group. Because of these restrictions, there is not a single business industry that has not been affected by this pandemic. A significant worry is that workers in essential industries such as healthcare and public services could contract the virus and then there would be a shortage of workers to assist other infected people.
The IRS has moved the tax filing date for individuals and the quarterly filing date for businesses from April 15 to July 15. This gives both groups more time to prepare their tax returns, or to have them prepared by accountants. Although tax preparers and accountants are considered essential businesses and therefore have mostly remained open, many of these businesses have still put safeguards in place and many accountants are working from home. This can slow the process. For businesses, the slowdown of their business can have an impact on their quarterly taxes due to a decline in sales, or an increase in other expenses, especially those businesses who have closed but are still paying their employees. Accountants will need extra time to navigate these changes and the IRS is still putting out new directives throughout this crisis, so many accountants are waiting to see the final determinations.
Other Relief for Businesses
The Security and Exchange Commission has relaxed some of the guidelines for filing Exchange Act reports. Because companies have been forced to either reduce their staff or close entirely, the compilation of reports has been impacted. Another issue is that quarterly calls are not happening because getting the required members in the same room is ill-advised, especially if travel is involved.
Taking all this into consideration, the SEC has offered a 45 day grace period to companies who would have been required to file between March 1 and April 30. These companies have to alert the SEC that their filings will be delayed and provide a reasonable explanation.
Amazon Neighborhood Small Business Relief Program
Amazon is creating a $5 million grant program for small businesses in Seattle who are impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The money can be used to help with payroll, and other general business needs. Because it is a grant, small businesses would not be required to pay the money back.
Facebook Small Business Grants Program
Facebook plans to roll out a $100 million dollar grant program for 30,000 small businesses around the world in countries where they operate. The grant awards are a combination of cash grants and advertising credits. The grant proceeds can be used for rent, advertising, payroll, and/or operating costs. The program will be rolled out in the near future and those interested are asked to add their name to a waiting list.
Banking’s Response to the Coronavirus
Banks have also stepped up to provide some relief for their customers. Closing lobbies and only using drive-up teller service while encouraging the use of online and mobile banking are just some of the steps being taken. Some banks are making short-term loans available to businesses and individuals to help tide them over during this crisis, while other banks are waiving ATM fees and overdraft fees. Some are also allowing customers to delay payments on mortgage and installment loans or waiving late fees for mortgage payments. The American Banking Association has compiled a list of banks and the relief they are providing on their website.
Why might this be a perfect time to go back to school?
This event has impacted people in various ways. Some have headed home from their jobs and they’re prepared to wait out the crises and then return to their old jobs either because the money is good, they truly enjoy their work, or for a few lucky ones, both reasons apply. But for others, this may be an opportunity to make a career change, something they’ve wanted to do but were afraid to try for whatever reason. Because unemployment is being offered and extended during this time, this may be the perfect opportunity to go back to school and pursue a different career. Many schools offer programs completely online, and even more are doing so while the pandemic is ongoing, which means that, even though we’re stuck at home, going to class and pursuing a new or higher-level degree is still an option.
Or, maybe you just want to learn how to do something new, such as a craft or hobby, speaking a new language, or simply improving your skillset for your current career. There are many ways to go about learning new skills, from YouTube videos to MOOCs to actual courses on the subject. A simple google search can provide you with links to courses and videos to help you on your path to learning a new hobby or skill.
For those who might have an interest in accounting, this is a good time to take some exploratory classes to see if accounting is something you might want to pursue. Most accounting majors are part of a business administration program, so along with taking an intro to accounting class, taking an intro to business, management, or marketing class is also a good idea. You could also take a business law course or a bookkeeping course, which could give you enough knowledge to break into the field before going for a full degree. It can offer an introduction to the base concepts of accounting and give you an idea of whether or not pursuing accounting courses in a more in-depth fashion is of interest to you before you dive into a business and accounting program. A bookkeeping certification may be enough to let you work in accounting on a freelance basis or get hired into an accounting firm at the entry level.
Additional Free Educational Courses, Called MOOCs
Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are not a new development. They’ve been around almost as long as the internet. Their popularity tends to ebb and flow, depending on the happenings in the world. Now that a large portion of the world is on lockdown, thanks to COVID-19, MOOCs are seeing an uptick in usage and enrollment. Whether people are bored and want to learn something new, or they’re laying the groundwork for a new career in the event their job doesn’t rematerialize when this is all over, people are learning new things through courses taught all around the world. Some of the most popular MOOC websites include:
- Class Central – This site has a database of MOOCs available
- Coursera – History, accounting, IT and other areas of study are available, both for the sake of learning and to earn a certification
- edX – Offers courses from MIT and Harvard University for free
- Udacity – Offers certificates in a variety of courses and careers