The worldwide outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is showing that crises tend to bring out the worst—and the best—in people.
Amid frenzied panic buying, supply hoarding, and finger-pointing, we’re also seeing individuals and businesses step up to help others. If the cloud hovering over the economic system has a silver lining, it’s that temporary changes to how companies define their mission statement could become permanent. Instead of focusing only on their bottom line, businesses might emerge from the crisis more focused on the greater good. In fact, many companies are already leading the way and providing inspiration during these uncertain times.
During World War II, manufacturers supported the war effort by adapting their production to meet vital wartime needs. We’re already seeing similar reactions to the coronavirus pandemic as companies adjust their capabilities to produce in-demand items.
Liquor distilleries have started to make hand sanitizer from alcohol supplies and offer it for free. In an Instagram post, Old Fourth Distillery in Atlanta wrote that, “Due to the recent reports of outages and low supply in our community, we have decided to provide hand sanitizer free of charge to anyone in need.” On March 16, the distillery announced that it would shift its efforts to fulfill the needs of healthcare workers on the front line of battling coronavirus. Such initiatives stand in stark contrast to the two Tennessee brothers who hoarded over 17,000 hand sanitizer bottles and only donated them after the state Attorney General got involved.
General Motors, which along with Ford and Fiat Chrysler is shutting down US factories over the coronavirus, could retool production lines to make medical supplies. A GM spokesperson told POLITICO that CEO Mary Barra is “studying how we can potentially support production of medical equipment like ventilators.”
Give It Away
With social distancing a priority, certain products and services are experiencing increased demand. Rather than price gouging, some companies are rising to the occasion and offering them for free. Others are adjusting their fees or waiving them entirely to assist customers.
For children stuck at home due to school closures, Scholastic is offering free online courses that cover English language arts, STEM, science, social studies, and social-emotional learning. Scholastic Learn at Home provides approximately three hours of learning per day and up to four weeks of instruction.
All this home-centered activity makes it crucial to keep utility, phone, and internet services on at a time when many customers are facing pressure to pay bills. Comcast, PG&E, AT&T, Charter, T-Mobile, and Verizon are among the companies offering free services, halting disconnections, and waiving late fees.
Automakers Hyundai and Ford are delaying car payments as well, while Grubhub is waiving its commission fees for independent restaurants nationwide. President Trump, meanwhile, has directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to suspend evictions and foreclosures through April. Generous landlords such as Nathan Nichols are going a step further and not collecting rent from tenants.
Serve At-Risk Groups
Coronavirus is not affecting everyone equally. Two groups particularly at-risk are senior citizens and the economically vulnerable. Fortunately, measures are being taken to protect those most likely to feel the impacts of virus-related disruptions
According to the CDC, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths are significantly higher for adults 65 years and older. It is particularly important that they follow self-isolation guidelines. This can make it more difficult to obtain food and other supplies, though. In response, grocery stores that include Dollar General, Stop and Shop, and Woolworths are introducing shopping hours exclusively for senior citizens—typically the first hour of each operating day. Woolworth’s efforts are dually focused on both the elderly and those with disabilities.
Low-wage and hourly workers who struggle to make ends meet during normal times are another group facing heightened insecurity. But from community food kitchens to charitable donations to direct giving, Americans are proving that the giving spirit is alive and well.
While celebrities and corporations may have more to give, every little bit counts. Remember that nearly half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, and most don’t have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. If you aren’t in that position, then you could be in a position to help.
Support Your Employees and Local Businesses
The trend toward more remote work has somewhat softened the blow of coronavirus office closures. Bars, restaurants, and other businesses, however, have been forced to shut down or drastically reduce operations, resulting in revenue loss and unemployment. Assuming that operations will eventually get back to normal, how are employers and employees going to weather the storm?
Some companies immediately made it clear that they will stand by their workers. REI, for example, is continuing to pay employees at its 162 stores through a twelve day closure. Restaurant chain owner Darden is implementing a COVID-19 emergency pay program and paid sick leave for every hourly team member. On the other end of the generosity spectrum is Virgin Atlantic, which asked its 10,000 employees to take eight weeks of unpaid leave to “drastically reduce costs without job losses.”
Governments have joined the initiative to keep workers afloat. Ohio and Pennsylvania are offering unemployment benefits to workers out of a job from coronavirus, either because of mandated quarantine or layoffs. Washington State has taken steps to ensure workers’ compensation protections for those on the front line of the outbreak, including health care workers and first responders. More states could follow these examples in the future.
Of course, workers won’t have a job to return to if their employer goes under. Small businesses don’t have the safety net that big businesses do; many have only enough cash on hand to last 45 days or less. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small business owners in California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Utah, and Washington are eligible to apply for a low-interest loan due to coronavirus. Federal coronavirus aid could add payments to small businesses, plus a stimulus package and paid sick leave for workers.
We shouldn’t just rely on government to support local businesses. Communities need to stand together, too. Patronage may not be an option right now, but you can still contribute money by buying a gift card, placing orders to be delivered later, purchasing a restaurant Dining Bond, or continuing to support a service provider who will be there for you when it’s safe to do so again.
Human interest is what this is all about at its core. Maybe that’s the conclusion…does this strain which puts us each at a distance, help us to become more loving and closer to each other? From taking the penguins on a walk at the Shedd Aquarium, to singing a song to grandma on her 100 bday from outside her nursing home, this is how we come together.
More inspiration for all of us.
Fanatics, the company that makes Nike uniforms for Major League Baseball, is temporarily converting its plant in Pennsylvania to use Yankees and Phillies uniform materials for hospital masks and gowns.
Matt Cullen, uber Detroit landlord, becomes the uber mensch for initiating free rent for tenants, unprompted.
Tech whiz and Silicon Valley investor Sam Altman and others are organizing an effort to build one million low cost ventilators in 90 days.
Hertz gives free wheels to health care workers. WSJ quotes Hertz CEO Kathryn Marinello: “In a crisis, I think it’s important to give employees an outlet to be part of the solution.”
NFL New England Patriots sent the team plane to China to pick up 1.2M N95 masks for medical workers in Massachusetts treating coronavirus patients.
Hospitals have joined the sharing economy: coming on board a platform to swap coronavirus-scarce supplies.
Tesla scrappiness at work, engineering a ventilator mostly out of existing Model 3 parts.