America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral

https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2020/09/pandemic-intuition-nightmare-spiral-winter/616204/

America Is Trapped in a Pandemic Spiral - The Atlantic

As the U.S. heads toward the winter, the country is going round in circles, making the same conceptual errors that have plagued it since spring.

Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by exhaustion or dehydration. The ants can sense no picture bigger than what’s immediately ahead. They have no coordinating force to guide them to safety. They are imprisoned by a wall of their own instincts. This phenomenon is called the death spiral. I can think of no better metaphor for the United States of America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. enters the ninth month of the pandemic with more than 6.3 million confirmed cases and more than 189,000 confirmed deaths. The toll has been enormous because the country presented the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus with a smorgasbord of vulnerabilities to exploit. But the toll continues to be enormous—every day, the case count rises by around 40,000 and the death toll by around 800—because the country has consistently thought about the pandemic in the same unproductive ways.

Many Americans trusted intuition to help guide them through this disaster. They grabbed onto whatever solution was most prominent in the moment, and bounced from one (often false) hope to the next. They saw the actions that individual people were taking, and blamed and shamed their neighbors. They lapsed into magical thinking, and believed that the world would return to normal within months. Following these impulses was simpler than navigating a web of solutions, staring down broken systems, and accepting that the pandemic would rage for at least a year.

These conceptual errors were not egregious lies or conspiracy theories, but they were still dangerous. They manifested again and again, distorting the debate around whether to stay at home, wear masks, or open colleges. They prevented citizens from grasping the scope of the crisis and pushed leaders toward bad policies. And instead of overriding misleading intuitions with calm and considered communication, those leaders intensified them. The country is now trapped in an intuition nightmare: Like the spiraling ants, Americans are walled in by their own unhelpful instincts, which lead them round and round in self-destructive circles.

“The grand challenge now is, how can we adjust our thinking to match the problem before us?” says Lori Peek, a sociologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies disasters. Here, then, are nine errors of intuition that still hamstring the U.S. pandemic response, and a glimpse at the future if they continue unchecked. The time to break free is now. Our pandemic summer is nearly over. Now come fall, the season of preparation, and winter, the season of survival. The U.S. must reset its mindset to accomplish both. Ant death spirals break only when enough workers accidentally blunder away, creating trails that lead the spiraling workers to safety. But humans don’t have to rely on luck; unlike ants, we have a capacity for introspection.

The spiral begins when people forget that controlling the pandemic means doing many things at once. The virus can spread before symptoms appear, and does so most easily through five P’s: people in prolonged, poorly ventilated, protection-free proximity. To stop that spread, this country could use measures that other nations did, to great effect: close nonessential businesses and spaces that allow crowds to congregate indoors; improve ventilation; encourage mask use; test widely to identify contagious people; trace their contacts; help them isolate themselves; and provide a social safety net so that people can protect others without sacrificing their livelihood. None of these other nations did everything, but all did enough things right—and did them simultaneously. By contrast, the U.S. engaged in …

1. A Serial Monogamy of Solutions

Stay-at-home orders dominated March. Masks were fiercely debated in April. Contact tracing took its turn in May. Ventilation is having its moment now. “It’s like we only have attention for only one thing at a time,” says Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida.

As often happens, people sought easy technological fixes for complex societal problems. For months, President Donald Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 cure, even as rigorous studies showed that it isn’t one. In August, he switched his attention to convalescent plasma—the liquid fraction of a COVID-19 survivor’s blood that might contain virus-blocking antibodies. There’s still no clear evidence that this century-old approach can treat COVID-19 either, despite grossly misstated claims from FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn (for which he later apologized). More generally, drugs might save some of the very sickest patients, as dexamethasone does, or shorten a hospital stay, as remdesivir does, but they are unlikely to offer outright cures. “It’s so reassuring to think that a magic-bullet treatment is out there and if we just wait, it’ll come and things will be normal,” Dean says.

Other strategies have merit, but are wrongly dismissed for being imperfect. In July, Carl Bergstrom, an epidemiologist and a sociologist of science at the University of Washington, argued that colleges cannot reopen safely without testing all students upon entry. “The gotcha question I’ve handled most from reporters since is: This school did entry testing, so why did they get an outbreak?” he says. It’s because such testing is necessary for a safe reopening, but not sufficient. “If you do it and screw everything else up, you’ll still have a big outbreak,” Bergstrom adds.

This brief attention span is understandable. Adherents of the scientific method are trained to isolate and change one variable at a time. Academics are walled off into different disciplines that rarely connect. Journalists constantly look for new stories, shifting attention to the next great idea. These factors prime the public to view solutions in isolation, which means imperfections become conflated with uselessness. For example, many critics of masks argued that they provide only partial protection against the virus, that they often don’t fit well, or that people wear them incorrectly. But some protection is clearly better than no protectionAs Dylan Morris of Princeton writes, “X won’t stop COVID on its own is not an argument against doing X.” Instead, it’s an argument for doing X along with other measures. Seat belts won’t prevent all fatal car crashes, but cars also come with airbags and crumple zones. “When we layer things, we give ourselves more wiggle room,” Dean says.

Several experts I’ve talked with have been asked: What now? The question assumes that the pandemic lingers because the U.S. simply hasn’t found the right solution yet. In fact, it lingers because the familiar solutions were never fully implemented. Despite claims from the White House, the U.S. is still not testing enough people. It still doesn’t have enough contact tracers. “We have the playbook, but I think there’s a confusion about what we’ve actually tried and what we’ve just talked about doing,” Dean says. A successful response “is never going to be one thing done perfectly. It’ll be a lot of different things done well enough.” That resilience disappears if we create…

2. False Dichotomies

A world of black and white is easier to handle than one awash with grays. But false dichotomies are dangerous. From the start, COVID-19 has been portrayed as a disease that mostly causes mild symptoms in people who quickly recover, and occasionally causes severe illness that leads to hospitalization and death. This two-sided caricature—severe or mild, sick or recovered—has erased the thousands of “long-haulers” who have endured months of debilitating symptoms at home with neither recognition nor care.

Meanwhile, as businesses closed and stay-at-home orders rolled out, “we presumed a trade-off between saving lives and saving the economy,” says Danielle Allen, a political scientist at Harvard. “That was foolishness of the most profound degree.” The two goals were actually aligned: Epidemiologists and economists largely agree that the economy cannot rebound while the pandemic is still raging. By treating the two as opposites, state leaders rushed to reopen, leading a barely contained virus to surge anew.  

Now, as winter looms and the pandemic continues, another dichotomy has emerged: enter another awful lockdown, or let the virus run free. This choice, too, is false. Public-health measures offer a middle road, and even “lockdowns” need not be as overbearing as they were in spring. A city could close higher-risk venues like bars and nightclubs while opening lower-risk ones like retail stores. There’s a “whole control panel of dials” on offer, but “it’s hard to have that conversation when people think of a light switch,” says Lindsay Wiley, a professor of public-health law at American University. “The term lockdown has done a lot of damage.” It exacerbated the false binary between shutting down and opening up, while offering …

3. The Comfort of Theatricality

Stay-at-home orders saved lives by curtailing COVID-19’s spread, and by giving hospitals some breathing room. But the orders were also meant to buy time for the nation to ramp up its public-health defenses. Instead, the White House treated months of physical distancing as a pandemic-ending strategy in itself. “We squandered that time in terms of scaling up testing and contact tracing, enacting policies to protect workers who get infected on the job, getting protective equipment to people in food-processing plants, finding places for people to isolate, offering paid sick leave … We still don’t have those things,” says Julia Marcus, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and regular Atlantic contributor. The country is now facing the fall with many of the same problems that plagued it through the summer.

Showiness is often mistaken for effectiveness. The coronavirus mostly spreads through air rather than contaminated surfaces, but many businesses are nonetheless trying to scrub and bleach their way toward reopening. My colleague Derek Thompson calls this hygiene theater—dramatic moves that appear to offer safety without actually doing so. The same charge applies to temperature checks, which can’t detect the many COVID-19 patients who don’t have a fever. It also applies to the porous and inefficient travel bans that Trump and his allies still tout as policy successes. These tactics might do some good—let’s not conflate imperfect with useless—but they cause harm when they substitute for stronger measures. Theatricality breeds complacency. And by emphasizing solutions that can be easily seen, it exacerbated the American preference for …

4. Personal Blame Over Systemic Fixes

SARS-CoV-2 spread rapidly among America’s overstuffed prisons and understaffed nursing homes, in communities served by overstretched hospitals and underfunded public-health departments, and among Black, Latino, and Indigenous Americans who had been geographically and financially disconnected from health care by decades of racist policies. Without paid sick leave or a living wage, “essential workers” who earn a low, hourly income could not afford to quarantine themselves when they fell ill—and especially not if that would jeopardize the jobs to which their health care is tied. “The things I do to stay safe, they don’t have that as an option,” says Whitney Robinson, a social epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But tattered social safety nets are less visible than crowded bars. Pushing for universal health care is harder than shaming an unmasked stranger. Fixing systemic problems is more difficult than spewing moralism, and Americans gravitated toward the latter. News outlets illustrated pandemic articles with (often distorted) photos of beaches, even though open-air spaces offer low-risk ways for people to enjoy themselves. Marcus attributes this tendency to America’s puritanical roots, which conflate pleasure with irresponsibility, and which prize shame over support. “The shaming gets codified into bad policy,” she says. Chicago fenced off a beach, and Honolulu closed beaches, parks, and hiking trails, while leaving riskier indoor businesses open.

Moralistic thinking jeopardizes health in two ways. First, people often oppose measures that reduce an individual’s risk—seat belts, condoms, HPV vaccines—because such protections might promote risky behavior. During the pandemic, some experts used such reasoning to question the value of masks, while the University of Michigan’s president argued that testing students widely would offer a “false sense of security.” These paternalistic false-assurance arguments are almost always false themselves. “There’s very little evidence for overcompensation to the point where safety measures do harm,” Bergstrom says.

Second, misplaced moralism can provide cover for bad policies. Many colleges started their semester with in-person teaching and inadequate testing, and are predictably dealing with large outbreaks. UNC Chapel Hill lasted just six days before reverting to remote classes. Administrators have chastised students for behaving irresponsibly, while taking no responsibility for setting them up to faila pattern that will likely continue through the fall as college clusters inevitably grow. “If you put 10,000 [students] in a small space, eating, sleeping, and socializing together, there’ll be an explosion of cases,” Robinson says. “I don’t know what [colleges] were expecting.” Perhaps they fell prey to …

5. The Normality Trap

In times of uncertainty and upheaval, “people crave a return to familiar, predictable rhythms,” says Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. That pull is especially strong now because the pandemic’s toll is largely invisible. There’s nothing as dramatic as ruined buildings or lapping floodwater to hint that the world has changed. In some circles, returning to normal has been valorized as an act of defiance. That’s a reasonable stance when resisting terrorists, who seek to stoke fear, but a dangerous one when fighting a virus, which doesn’t care.

The powerful desire to re-create an old world can obscure the trade-offs necessary for surviving the new one. Keeping high-risk indoor businesses open, for example, helps the virus spread within a community, which makes reopening schools harder. “If schools are a priority, you have to put them ahead of something. What is that something?” says Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard. “In an ideal world, they would be the last to close and the first to open, but in many communities, casinos, bars, and tattoo parlors opened before them.” A world with COVID-19 is fundamentally different from one without it, and the former simply cannot include all the trappings of the latter. Cherished summer rituals like camps and baseball games have already been lost; back-to-school traditions and Thanksgiving now hang in the balance. Change is hard to accept, which predisposes people to …

6. Magical Thinking

Back in April, Trump imagined the pandemic’s quick end: “Maybe this goes away with heat and light,” he said. From the start, he and others wondered if hot, humid weather might curb the spread of COVID-19, as it does other coronavirus diseases. Many experts countered that seasonal effects wouldn’t stop the new virus, which was already spreading in the tropics. But, fueled by shaky science and speculative stories, people widely latched on to seasonality as a possible savior, before the virus proved that it could thrive in the Arizona, Texas, and Florida summer.

This brand of magical thinking, in which some factor naturally defuses the pandemic, has become a convenient excuse for inaction. Recently, some commentators have argued that the pandemic will imminently fizzle out for two reasons. First, 20 to 50 percent of people have defensive T-cells that recognize the new coronavirus, because they were previously exposed to its milder, common-cold-causing cousins. Second, some modeling studies claim that herd immunity—whereby the virus struggles to find new hosts, because enough people are immune—could kick in when just 20 percent of the population has been infected.

Neither claim is implausible, but neither should be grounds for complacency. No one yet knows if the “cross-reactive” T-cells actually protect against COVID-19, and even if they do, they’re unlikely to stop people from getting infected. Herd immunity, meanwhile, is not a perfect barrier. Even if the low thresholds are correct, a fast-growing and uncontrolled outbreak will still shoot past themPursuing this strategy will mean that, in the winter, many parts of the U.S. may suffer what New York City endured in the spring: thousands of deaths and an untold number of lingering disabilities. That alone should be an argument against …

7. The Complacency of Inexperience

When illness is averted and lives are spared, “nothing happens and all you have is the miracle of a normal, healthy day,” says Howard Koh, a public-health professor at Harvard. “People take that for granted.” Public-health departments are chronically underfunded because the suffering they prevent is invisible. Pandemic preparations are deprioritized in the peaceful years between outbreaks. Even now, many people who have been spared the ravages of COVID-19 argue that the disease wasn’t a big deal, or associate their woes with preventive measures. But the problem is still the disease those measures prevented: The economy is still hurtingmental-health problems are growing, and educational futures have been curtailed, not because of some fearmongering overreaction, but because an uncontrolled pandemic is still afoot.

If anything, the U.S. did not react swiftly or strongly enough. Nations that had previously dealt with emerging viral epidemics, including several in East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, were quick to take the new coronavirus seriously. By contrast, America’s lack of similar firsthand experience, combined with its sense of exceptionalism, might have contributed to its initial sloppiness. “One of my colleagues went to Rwanda in February, and as soon as he hit the airport, they asked about symptoms, checked his temperature, and took his phone number,” says Abraar Karan, an internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “In the U.S., I flew in July, and walked out of the airport, no questions asked.”

Even when the virus began spreading within the U.S., places that weren’t initially pummeled seemed to forget that viruses spread. “In April, I was seeing COVID patients in the ER every day,” Karan says. “In Texas, I had friends saying, ‘No one believes it here because we have no cases.’ In L.A., fellow physicians said, ‘Are you sure this is worse than the flu? We’re not seeing anything.’” Three months later, Texas and California saw COVID-19 all too closely. The tendency to ignore threats until they directly affect us has consigned the U.S. to …

8. A Reactive Rut

In March, Mike Ryan at the World Health Organization advised, “Be fast, have no regrets … The virus will always get you if you don’t move quickly.” The U.S. failed to heed that warning, and has repeatedly found itself several steps behind the coronavirus. That’s partly because exponential growth is counterintuitive, so “we don’t understand that things look fine until right before they’re very not fine,” says Beth Redbird, a sociologist at Northwestern. It’s also because the coronavirus spreads quickly but is slow to reveal itself: It can take a month for infections to lead to symptoms, for symptoms to warrant tests and hospitalizations, and for enough sick people to produce a noticeable spike. Pandemic data are like the light of distant stars, recording past events instead of present ones. This lag separates actions from their consequences by enough time to break our intuition for cause and effect. Policy makers end up acting only when it’s too late. Predictable surges get falsely cast as unexpected surprises.

This reactive rut also precludes long-term planning. In April, Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota, told me that “people haven’t understood that [the pandemic] isn’t about the next couple of weeks [but] about the next two years.” Leaders should have taken the long view then. “We should have been thinking about what it would take to ensure schools open in the fall, and prevent the long-term harms of lost children’s development,” Redbird says. Instead, we started working our way through a serial monogamy of solutions, and, like spiraling army ants, marched forward with no sense of the future beyond the next few footsteps.

These errors crop up in all disasters. But the COVID-19 pandemic has special qualities that have exacerbated them. The virus moved quickly enough to upend the status quo in a few months, deepening the allure of the hastily abandoned past. It also moved slowly enough to sweep the U.S. in a patchwork fashion, allowing as-yet-untouched communities to drop their guard. The pandemic grew huge in scope, entangling every aspect of society, and maxing out our capacity to deal with complexity. “People struggle to make rational decisions when they cannot see all the cogs,” says Njoki Mwarumba, an emergency-management professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Full of fear and anxiety, people furiously searched for more information, but because the virus is so new, they instead spiraled into more confusion and uncertainty. And tragically, all of this happened during the presidency of Donald Trump.

Trump embodied and amplified America’s intuition death spiral. Instead of rolling out a detailed, coordinated plan to control the pandemic, he ricocheted from one overhyped cure-all to another, while relying on theatrics such as travel bans. He ignored inequities and systemic failures in favor of blaming China, the WHO, governors, Anthony Fauci, and Barack Obama. He widened the false dichotomy between lockdowns and reopening by regularly tweeting in favor of the latter. He and his allies appealed to magical thinking and steered the U.S. straight into the normality trap by frequently lying that the virus would go away, that the pandemic was ending, that new waves weren’t happening, and that rising case numbers were solely due to increased testing. They have started talking about COVID-19 in the past tense as cases surge in the Midwest.

“It’s like mass gaslighting,” says Martha Lincoln, a medical anthropologist at San Francisco State University. “We were put in a situation where better solutions were closed off but a lot of people had that fact sneak up on them. In the absence of a robust federal response, we’re all left washing our hands and hoping for the best, which makes us more susceptible to magical thinking and individual-level fixes.” And if those fixes never come, “I think people are going to harden into a fatalistic sense that we have to accept whatever the risks are to continue with our everyday lives.”

That might, indeed, be Trump’s next solution. The Washington Post reports that Trump’s new adviser—the neuroradiologist Scott Atlas—is pushing a strategy that lets the virus rip through the non-elderly population in a bid to reach herd immunity. This policy was folly for Sweden, which is nowhere near herd immunity, had one of the world’s highest COVID-19 death rates, and has a regretful state epidemiologist. Although the White House has denied that a formal herd-immunity policy exists, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently changed its guidance to say that asymptomatic people “do not necessarily need a test” even after close contact with an infected personThis change makes no sense: People can still spread the virus before showing symptoms. By effectively recommending less testing, as Trump has specifically called for, the nation’s top public-health agency is depriving the U.S. of the data it needs to resist intuitive errors. “When there’s a refusal to take in the big picture, we are stuck,” Mwarumba says.

The pandemic is now in its ninth month. Uncertainties abound as fall and winter loom. In much of the country, colder weather will gradually pack people into indoor spaces, where the coronavirus more readily spreads. Winter also typically heralds the arrival of the flu and other respiratory viruses, and although the Southern Hemisphere enjoyed an unusually mild flu season, that’s “because of the severe precautions they were taking against COVID-19,” says Eleanor Murray, an epidemiologist at Boston University. “It’s not clear to me that our precautions will be successful enough to also prevent the flu.”

Schools are reopening, which will shape the path of the pandemic in still-uncertain ways. Universities are more predictable: Thanks to magical thinking and misplaced moralism, the U.S. already has at least 51,000 confirmed infections in more than 1,000 colleges across every state. These (underestimated) numbers will grow, because only 20 percent of colleges are doing regular testing, while almost half are not testing at all. As more are forced to stop in-person teaching, students will be sent back to their communities with COVID-19 in tow. “I expect this will blow up outbreaks in places that never had outbreaks, or in places that had outbreaks under control,” Murray says. Further spikes will likely occur after Thanksgiving and Christmas, as people who yearn to return to normal (or who think that the country overreacted) travel to see their family. Despite that risk, the CDC recently dropped its recommendation that out-of-state travelers should quarantine themselves for 14 days.

But many of the experts I spoke with thought it unlikely that “we’ll have cities going full New York,” as Bergstrom puts it. Doctors are getting better at treating the disease. States like Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey have managed to avoid new surges over the summer, showing that local leadership can at least partly compensate for federal laxity. A new generation of cheap, rapid, paper-based tests will hit the market and make it easier to work out who is contagious. And despite the spiral of bad intuitions, many Americans are holding the line: Mask use and support for physical distancing are still high, according to Redbird, who has been tracking pandemic-related attitudes since March. “My feeling is that while things are going to get worse, I’m not sure they’ll be catastrophic, because of situational awareness,” Bill Hanage says.

Meanwhile, Trump seems to be teeing up a vaccine announcement in late October, shortly before the November 3 election. Moncef Slaoui, the scientific head of Operation Warp Speed, told NPR that it’s “extremely unlikely” a vaccine will be ready by then, and many scientists are concerned that the FDA will be pressured into approving a product that hasn’t been adequately tested, as Russia and China already have. Many Americans share this concern. A safe and effective vaccine could finally bring the pandemic under control, but its arrival will also test America’s ability to resist the intuitive errors that have trapped it so far. Vaccination has long been portrayed as the ultimate biomedical silver bullet, separating an era when masks and social distancing mattered from a world where normality has returned. This is yet another false dichotomy. “Everyone’s imagining this moment when all of a sudden, it’s all over, and they can go on vacation,” Natalie Dean says. “But the reality is going to be messier.”

This problem is not unique to COVID-19. It’s more compelling to hope that drug-resistant bacteria can be beaten with viruses than to stem the overuse of antibiotics, to hack the climate than to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, or to invest in a doomed oceanic plastic-catcher than to reduce the production of waste. Throughout its entire history, and more than any other nation, the U.S. has espoused “an almost blind faith in the power of technology as panacea,” writes the historian Howard Segal.* Instead of solving social problems, the U.S. uses techno-fixes to bypass them, plastering the wounds instead of removing the source of injury—and that’s if people even accept the solution on offer.

A third of Americans already say they would refuse a vaccine, whether because of existing anti-vaccine attitudes or more reasonable concerns about a rushed development process. Those who get the shot are unlikely to be fully protected; the FDA is prepared to approve a vaccine that’s at least 50 percent effective—a level comparable to current flu shots. An imperfect vaccine will still be useful. The risk is that the government goes all-in on this one theatrical countermeasure, without addressing the systemic problems that made the U.S. so vulnerable, or investing in the testing and tracing strategies that will still be necessary. “We’re still going to need those other things,” Dean says.

Between these reasons and the time needed for manufacturing and distribution, the pandemic is likely to drag on for months after a vaccine is approved. Already, the event is exacting a psychological toll that’s unlike the trauma of a hurricane or fire. “It’s not the type of disaster that Americans specifically are used to dealing with,” says Samantha Montano of Massachusetts Maritime Academy, who studies disasters. “Famines and complex humanitarian crises are closer approximations.” Health experts are burning outLong-haulers are struggling to find treatments or support. But many Americans are turning away from the pandemic. “People have stopped watching news about it as much, or talking to friends about it,” Redbird says. “I think we’re all exhausted.” Optimistically, this might mean that people are becoming less anxious and more resilient. More worryingly, it could also mean they are becoming inured to tragedy.

The most accurate model to date predicts that the U.S. will head into November with 220,000 confirmed deaths. More than 1,000 health-care workers have died. One in every 1,125 Black Americans has died, along with similarly disproportionate numbers of Indigenous people, Pacific Islanders, and Latinos. And yet, a recent poll found that 57 percent of Republican voters and 33 percent of independents think the number of deaths is acceptable. “In order for us to mobilize around a social problem, we all have to agree that it’s a problem,” Lori Peek says. “It’s shocking that we haven’t, because you really would have thought that with a pandemic it would be easy.” This is the final and perhaps most costly intuitive error …

9. The Habituation of Horror

The U.S. might stop treating the pandemic as the emergency that it is. Daily tragedy might become ambient noise. The desire for normality might render the unthinkable normal. Like poverty and racismschool shootings and police brutalitymass incarceration and sexual harassmentwidespread extinctions and changing climate, COVID-19 might become yet another unacceptable thing that America comes to accept.

 

 

 

 

Many workers don’t get new paid sick leave, because of ‘broad’ exemption for providers, report finds

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/08/11/paid-sick-leave/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202020-08-12%20Healthcare%20Dive%20%5Bissue:29035%5D

Many health-care workers don't get new paid sick leave, because of ...

The New York attorney general sued the Labor Department in April over the agency’s interpretation of ‘health care provider’.

A government watchdog said in a report out Tuesday that the Labor Department “significantly broadened” an exemption allowing millions of health-care workers to be denied paid sick leave as part of the law Congress passed in March to help workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act in March to ensure workers at small- and medium-size companies were able to take paid leave if they or a family member became sick with the coronavirus. The law exempts health-care providers as well as companies with more than 500 employees.

But an Office of the Inspector General report noted that a move by the Labor Department to more broadly expand how they categorize health-care providers ended up leaving far more workers without a guarantee of paid sick leave than the agency’s estimate of 9 million.

While existing federal statutes define health-care workers as doctors, someone practicing medicine or providing health-care services, the Labor Department’s exemption from paid sick leave included anyone employed at a doctor’s office, clinic, testing facility or hospital, including temporary sites. The report also found the agency also exempted companies that contract with clinics and hospitals, such as those that produce medical equipment or tests related to the coronavirus, the OIG found.

The report also suggested the Labor Department is not doing enough to enforce the paid-sick-leave provisions, as well as its existing laws on pay and overtime issues.

In an effort to be socially distant, the federal agency acknowledged it has been forgoing fact-finding, on-site investigations, where an investigator examines all aspects of whether an employer is complying with federal labor laws. Instead, the agency has been using conciliations, which are telephone-only reviews limited to looking into a single issue affecting one or a few employees, with no fact-finding.

Critics of the Labor Department’s more hands-off approach to the pandemic have seized on the report as another indication of the ways in which the Trump administration has abandoned its commitments to worker safety.

“The Inspector General’s report makes clear that the Department of Labor went out of its way to limit the number of workers who could take emergency paid leave,” Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), the chairman of the House Education Committee, said in a statement. “This absence of meaningful enforcement of our nation’s basic workplace laws creates a major risk to workers who are already vulnerable to exploitation amid record unemployment.”

Before the pandemic, limited or full on-site investigations, a more robust way the agency looked into pay and overtime issues, made up about 53 percent of its inquiries. But since March 18, only 19 percent of those inquiries have been on-site investigations.

Actions taken to enforce the sick-leave provisions in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act have skewed even further away from investigations: 85 percent have been resolved through conciliations.

The agency’s Wage and Hour Division responded to the OIG’s findings, noting that they were “developing and sharing models for conducting virtual investigations,” and that they also pledged to maintain a backlog of delayed on-site investigations to be tackled when it was safer to conduct those reviews.

But critics suggest the pandemic alone is not a sufficient excuse for the drop-off in investigations, some aspects of which could be done remotely.

“These numbers just look so different than the numbers that I’m used to seeing in terms of conciliations versus investigations,” said Sharon Block, a senior Obama administration labor department official. “It really does jump out. That 85 percent is just a really big number.”

The issue about expanding who gets to opt out of offering paid sick leave has been the subject of complaints, according to the OIG report, as well as a federal lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James. That lawsuit argued that the Labor Department overstepped its authority by defining health-care providers in such broad terms, saying it could be skewed to include workers such as teaching assistants or librarians at universities, employees who work in food services or tech support at medical schools, and cashiers at hospital gift shops and cafeterias.

Judge J. Paul Oetken, of New York’s Southern District, struck down the Labor Department’s definition, as well as three other provisions last week — but confusion remains about whether his ruling applies only to employers in New York.

In an internal response to the OIG report, which predates the New York ruling, the Labor Department said that it agreed with many of the OIG’s recommendations and that it would continue to use its definition of health-care providers until the resolution of the federal lawsuit.

The Labor Department did not reply to requests for comment about whether it planned to contest the judge’s ruling, or the other findings in the report.

The inspector general pointed to other ways the department is not doing enough to adjust to the challenges of the post-outbreak world.

The OIG report said that while the agency’s Wage and Hour Division referenced the coronavirus in an operating plan in late May, it pointed out that the division “focuses more on what the agency has already accomplished rather than thinking proactively and describing how it will continue to ensure FFCRA compliance while still maintaining enforcement coverage,” the report noted.

The department did not provide any goals about the enforcement or provide any requirements for tracking and reporting the new violations created by the FFCRA.

“With the predicted surge of covid-19 cases nationwide in upcoming months as more Americans return to work and as a consequence, an anticipated increase in complaint call volume to WHD, it would be expedient of the agency to devise a detailed plan as to how it intends to address this issue,” the OIG noted.

The report is the latest to spotlight the Trump administration’s employer-friendly approach to worker safety and protections.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the part of the Labor Department that investigates and is charged with upholding worker safety, has been criticized by workers and advocates for failing to issue citations for worker safety issues during the pandemic in significant numbers. It had only issued four citations out of more than 7,900 coronavirus-related complaints, according to figures from July 21.

 

 

 

What ‘Racism Is a Public Health Issue’ Means

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/what-racism-public-health-issue-means-180975326/?utm_source=smithsoniandaily&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20200720-daily-responsive&spMailingID=43001584&spUserID=MTA5MDI1MDg0MjgxOQS2&spJobID=1801530184&spReportId=MTgwMTUzMDE4NAS2&fbclid=IwAR027OjpNcyZKM6Jd5aTYhgVaTzaO5lBqI4hCl1xsrKgQRL1bFYH538YIMA

What 'Racism Is a Public Health Issue' Means | Science ...

Epidemiologist Sharrelle Barber discusses the racial inequalities that exist for COVID-19 and many other health conditions.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, whether cases are flaring up, slowing to a simmer, or back on the rise in areas across the United States, the data makes one fact apparent: The viral disease has disproportionally sickened and killed marginalized communities. A New York Times analysis of data from almost 1,000 counties that reported racial breakdowns of COVID-19 cases and fatalities revealed that, compared to white Americans, African Americans and Hispanics were three times more likely to experience and two times more likely to die from the illness. The Navajo Nation has, per capita, more confirmed cases and deaths than any of the 50 states.

Many factors, like access to healthcare and testing, household size, or essential worker status, likely contribute to the pandemic’s outsized toll on communities of color, but experts see a common root: the far-reaching effects of systemic racism.

That racism would have such an insidious effect on health isn’t a revelation to social epidemiologists. For decades, public health experts have discussed “weathering,” or the toll that repeated stressors experienced by people of color take on their health. Studies have demonstrated the link between such chronic stress and high blood pressure, the increased maternal mortality rate among black and indigenous women, and the elevated prevalence of diabetes in black, Latino and especially Native American populations. The pandemic has laid bare these inequities. At the same time, outcry over systemic racism and police brutality against African Americans has roiled the nation, and the phrase, “Racism is a public health issue” has become an internet refrain.

What exactly is the nebulous concept of “public health”? According to Sharrelle Barber, a Drexel University assistant professor of epidemiology, the concept goes beyond the healthcare setting to take a more holistic look at health in different populations. “The charge of public health,” Barber told Smithsonian, “is really to prevent disease, prevent death, and you prevent those things by having a proper diagnosis of why certain groups might have higher rates of mortality, higher rates of morbidity, et cetera.”

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Smithsonian’s conversation with Barber, who studies how anti-black racism impacts health, about the many ways in which racism is a public health crisis:

When people say, “Racism is a public health problem,” what, in broad strokes, do they mean?

We’ve been observing racial inequities in health for decades in this country. W.E.B. DuBois, who was a sociologist, in The Philadelphia Negro showed mortality rates by race and where people lived in the city of Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century and found striking inequalities based on race. Fast forward to 1985, 35 years ago, and we have the [Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored] Heckler Report, one of the most comprehensive studies the country had undertaken, which again found striking inequalities across a wide range of health outcomes: infant mortality, cancer, stroke, et cetera.

There are various explanations for why these racial inequalities exist, and a lot of those have erroneously focused on either biology or genetics or behavioral aspects, but it’s important to examine the root causes of those inequities, which is structural racism…Racism is a public health problem, meaning racism is at the root of the inequities in health that we see, particularly for blacks in this country. So whether it’s housing, criminal justice, education, wealth, economic opportunities, healthcare, all of these interlocking systems of racism really are the main fundamental drivers of the racial inequities that we see among black Americans.

What are some specific factors or policies that have set the foundations for these health inequities?

Any conversation about racial inequities has to start with a conversation about slavery. We have to go back 400-plus years and really recognize the ways in which the enslavement of African people and people of African descent is the initial insult that set up the system of racism within this country. One of the major drivers that I actually study is the link between racial residential segregation, particularly in our large urban areas, and health inequities. Racial residential segregation is rooted in racist policies that date back at least to the 1930s. Practices such as redlining, which devalued black communities and led to the disinvestment in black communities, were then propped up by practices and policies at the local, the state and federal level, for example, things like restrictive covenants, where blacks were not allowed to move into certain communities; racial terror, where blacks were literally intimidated and run out of white communities when they tried to or attempted to move into better communities; and so many other policies. Even when you get the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the system finds a way to reinvent itself to still perpetuate and maintain racism.

Within segregated communities, you have so many adverse exposures, like poor quality housing or lack of access to affordable, healthy foods, lack of access to quality healthcare, and the list goes on. The chronic stressors within these communities are compounded in segregated communities, which then can lead to a wide array of health outcomes that are detrimental. So for example, in the city of Philadelphia, there’s been work that has shown upwards of a 15-year life expectancy difference between racially and economically segregated communities, black communities and wealthier white communities.

I imagine that sometimes you might get pushback from people who ask about whether you can separate the effects of socioeconomic status and race in these differences in health outcomes.

Yeah, that’s a false dichotomy in some ways. Racism does lead to, in many aspects, lower income, education, wealth. So they’re inextricably linked. However, racism as a system goes beyond socioeconomic status. If we look at what we see in terms of racial inequities in maternal mortality for black women, they are three times times more likely to die compared to white women. This disparity or this inequity is actually seen for black women who have a college degree or more. The disparity is wide, even when you control for socioeconomic status.

Let’s talk about the COVID-19 pandemic. How does racism shape the current health crisis?

The COVID-19 pandemic has literally just exposed what me and so many of my colleagues have known for decades, but it just puts it in such sharp focus. When you see the disproportionate impact COVID-19 is having, particularly for blacks, but also we’re seeing emerging data on Indigenous folks, it is just laying bare the ways racism is operating in this moment to produce those inequities.

Essential workers who had to continue to work during periods of stay at home orders across the country were disproportionately black and Latino. These are also often low wage workers. They weren’t given personal protective equipment, paid sick leave, hazard pay, and really had to choose between being exposed and protecting themselves and having an income during this period. So that’s one way racism operates.

Then we know that those individuals aren’t isolated, that they return to homes that often are crowded because of the lack of affordable housing. Again, another system of racism that compounds the effect. Then you think about places like Flint, Michigan, or places that don’t have access to clean water. When we were telling people, “Wash your hands, social distance,” all of those things, there were people who literally could not adhere to those basic public health prevention measures and still can’t.

So many things were working in tandem together to then increase the risk, and what was frustrating for myself and colleagues was this kind of “blame the victim” narrative that emerged at the very onset, when we saw the racial disparities emerge and folks were saying, “Blacks aren’t washing their hands,” or, “Blacks need to eat better so they have better outcomes in terms of comorbidities and underlying chronic conditions,” when again, all of that’s structured by racism. To go back to your original question, that’s why racism is a public health issue and fundamental, because in the middle of a pandemic, the worst public health crisis in a century, we’re seeing racism operate and racism produce the inequities in this pandemic, and those inequities are striking…

If we had a structural racism lens going into this pandemic, perhaps we would have done things differently. For example, get testing to communities that we know are going to be more susceptible to the virus. We would have done that early on as opposed to waiting, or we would have said, “Well, folks need to have personal protective equipment and paid sick leave and hazard pay.” We would have made that a priority…

The framing [of systemic racism as a public health concern] also dictates the solutions you come up with in order to actually prevent death and suffering. But if your orientation is, “Oh, it’s a personal responsibility” or “It’s behavioral,” then you create messages to black communities to say, “Wash your hands; wear a mask,” and all of these other things that, again, do not address the fundamental structural drivers of the inequities. That’s why it’s a public health issue, because if public health is designed to prevent disease, prevent suffering, then you have to address racism to have the biggest impact.

Can you talk about how police brutality fits into the public health picture?

We have to deal with the literal deaths that happen at the hands of the police, because of a system that is rooted in slavery, but I also think we have to pay attention to the collective trauma that it causes to black communities. In the midst of a pandemic that’s already traumatic to watch the deaths due to COVID-19, [communities] then have to bear witness to literal lynchings and murders and that trauma. There’s really good scholarship on the kind of spillover effects of police brutality that impact the lives of whole communities because of the trauma of having to witness this kind of violence that then does not get met with any kind of justice.

It reinforces this idea that one, our lives are disposable, that black lives really don’t matter, because the whole system upholds this kind of violence and this kind of oppression, particularly for black folks. I’ve done studies on allostatic load [the wear and tear on the body as a result of chronic stress] and what it does, the dysregulation that happens. So just think about living in a society that’s a constant source of stress, chronic stress, and how that wreaks havoc on blacks and other marginalized racial groups as well.

 

 

 

 

Health Equity Principles for State and Local Leaders in Responding to, Reopening and Recovering from COVID-19

https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2020/05/health-equity-principles-for-state-and-local-leaders-in-responding-to-reopening-and-recovering-from-covid-19.html

Centering Health Equity in COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plans ...

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.”

COVID-19 has unleashed a dual threat to health equity in the United States: a pandemic that has sickened millions and killed tens of thousands and counting, and an economic downturn that has resulted in tens of millions of people losing jobs—the highest numbers since the Great Depression. The COVID pandemic underscores that:

  • Our health is inextricably linked to that of our neighbors, family members, child- and adult-care providers, co-workers, school teachers, delivery service people, grocery store clerks, factory workers, and first responders, among others;
  • Our current health care, public health, and economic systems do not adequately or equitably protect our well-being as a nation; and
  • Every community is experiencing harm, though certain groups are suffering disproportionately, including people of color, workers with low incomes, and people living in places that were already struggling financially before the economic downturn.

For communities and their residents to recover fully and fairly, state and local leaders should consider the following health equity principles in designing and implementing their responses. These principles are not a detailed public health guide for responding to the pandemic or reopening the economy, but rather a compass that continually points leaders toward an equitable and lasting recovery.

 

Collect, analyze, and report data disaggregated by age, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, neighborhood, and other sociodemographic characteristics.

Pandemics and economic recessions exacerbate disparities that ultimately hurt us all. Therefore, state and local leaders cannot design equitable response and recovery strategies without monitoring COVID’s impacts among socially and economically marginalized groups.¹ Data disaggregation should follow best practices and extend not only to public health data on COVID cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities, but also to: measures of access to testing, treatment, personal protective equipment (PPE), and safe places to isolate when sick; receipt of social and economic supports; and the downstream consequences of COVID on well-being, ranging from housing instability to food insecurity.

Geographic identifiers would allow leaders and the public to understand the interplay between place and social factors, as counties with large black populations account for more than half of all COVID deaths, and rural communities and post-industrial cities generally fare worse in economic downturns. Legal mandates for data disaggregation are proliferating, but 11 states are still not reporting COVID deaths by race; 16 are not reporting by gender; and 26 are not reporting based on congregate living status (e.g., nursing homes, jails). Only three are reporting testing data by race and ethnicity.

While states and cities can do more, the federal government should also support data disaggregation through funding and national standards.

Include in decision-making the people most affected by health and economic challenges, and benchmark progress based on their outcomes.

Our communities are stronger, more stable, and more prosperous when every person, including the most disadvantaged residents, is healthy and financially secure. Throughout the response and recovery, state and local leaders should ask: Are we making sure that people facing the greatest risks have access to PPE, testing and treatment, stable housing, and a way to support their families? And, are we creating ways for residents—particularly those hardest hit—to meaningfully participate in and shape the government’s recovery strategy?

Accordingly, policymakers should create space for leaders from these communities to be at decision-making tables and should regularly consult with community-based organizations that can identify barriers to accessing health and social services, lift up grassroots solutions, and disseminate public health guidance in culturally and linguistically appropriate ways. For example, they could recommend trusted, accessible locations for new testing sites and advise on how to diversify the pool of contact tracers, who will be crucial to tamping down the spread of infection in reopened communities. They could also collaborate with government leaders to ensure that all people who are infected with coronavirus (or exposed to someone infected) have a safe, secure, and acceptable place to isolate or quarantine for 14 days. Key partners could include community health centers, small business associations, community organizing groups, and workers’ rights organizations, among others. Ultimately, state and local leaders should measure the success of their response based not only on total death counts and aggregate economic impacts but also on the health and social outcomes of the most marginalized.

Establish and empower teams dedicated to promoting racial equity in response and recovery efforts.

Race or ethnicity should not determine anyone’s opportunity for good health or social well-being, but, as COVID has shown, we are far from this goal. People of color are more likely to be front-line workers, to live in dense or overcrowded housing, to lack health insurance, and to experience chronic diseases linked to unhealthy environments and structural racism. Therefore, state and local leaders should empower dedicated teams to address COVID-related racial disparities, as several leaders, Republican and Democrat, have already done.

To be effective, these entities should: include leaders of color from community, corporate, academic, and philanthropic sectors; be integrated as key members of the broader public health and economic recovery efforts; and be accountable to the public. These teams should foster collaboration between state, local, and tribal governments to assist Native communities; anticipate and mitigate negative consequences of current response strategies, such as bias in enforcement of public health guidelines; address racial discrimination within the health care system; and ensure access to tailored mental health services for people of color and immigrants who are experiencing added trauma, stigma, and fear. Ultimately, resources matter. State and local leaders must ensure that critical health and social supports are distributed fairly, proportionate to need, and free of undue restrictions to meet the needs of all groups, including black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous communities.

 

Proactively identify and address existing policy gaps while advocating for further federal support.

The Congressional response to COVID has been historic in its scope and speed, but significant gaps remain. Additional federal resources are needed for a broad range of health and social services, along with fiscal relief for states and communities facing historically large budget deficits due to COVID. Despite these challenges, state and local leaders must still find ways to take targeted policy actions. The following questions can help guide their response.

Who is left out?Inclusion of all populations will strengthen the public health response and lessen the pandemic’s economic fallout for all of society, but federal actions to date have not included all who have been severely harmed by the pandemic. As a result, many states and communities have sought to fill gaps in eviction protections and paid sick and caregiving leave. Others are extending support to undocumented immigrants and mixed-status families through public-private partnerships, faith-based charities, and community-led mutual aid systems. Vital health care providers, including safety net hospitals and Indian Health Service facilities, have also been disadvantaged and need targeted support.

Will protections last long enough?Many programs, such as expanded Medicaid funding, are tied to the federal declaration of a public health emergency, which will likely end before the economic crisis does. Other policies, like enhanced unemployment insurance and mortgage relief, are set to expire on arbitrary dates. And still others, such as stimulus checks, were one-time payments. Instead, policy extensions should be tied to the extent of COVID infection in a state or community (or its anticipated spread) and/or to broader economic measures such as unemployment. This is particularly important as communities will likely experience re-openings and closings over the next six to 12 months as COVID reemerges.

Have programs that meet urgent needs been fully and fairly implemented?Allexisting federal resources should be used in a time of great need. For example, additional states should adopt provisions that would allow families with school-age children to receive added Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and more communities need innovative solutions to provide meals to young children who relied on schools or child care providers for breakfast and lunch. States should also revise eligibility, enrollment, and recertification processes that deter Medicaid use by children, pregnant women, and lawfully residing immigrants.

Invest in strengthening public health, health care, and social infrastructure to foster resilience.

Health, public health, and social infrastructure are critical for recovery and for our survival of the next pandemic, severe weather event, or economic downturn. A comprehensive public health system is the first line of defense for rural, tribal, and urban communities. While a sizable federal reinvestment in public health is needed, states and communities must also reverse steady cuts to the public health workforce and laboratory and data systems.

Everyone in this country should have paid sick and family leave to care for themselves and loved ones; comprehensive health insurance to ensure access to care when sick and to protect against medical debt; and jobs and social supports that enable families to meet their basic needs and invest in the future. As millions are projected to lose employer-sponsored health insurance, Medicaid expansion becomes increasingly vital for its proven ability to boost health, reduce disparities, and provide a strong return on investment. In the longer term, policies such as earned income tax credits and wage increases for low-wage workers can help secure economic opportunity and health for all. Finally, states and communities should invest in affordable, accessible high-speed internet, which is crucial to ensuring that everyone—not just the most privileged among us—is informed, connected to schools and jobs, and engaged civically.

These principles can guide our nation toward an equitable response and recovery and help sow the seeds of long-term, transformative change. States and cities have begun imagining and, in some cases, advancing toward this vision, putting a down payment on a fair and just future in which health equity is a reality. Returning to the ways things were is not an option.

100,000 Lives Lost to COVID-19. What Did They Teach Us?

https://www.propublica.org/article/100000-lives-lost-to-covid-19-what-did-they-teach-us?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailynewsletter&utm_content=feature

May 27 data: Four new Utah COVID-19 deaths as US count tops ...

Each person who has died of COVID-19 was somebody’s everything. Even as we mourn for those we knew, cry for those we loved and consider those who have died uncounted, the full tragedy of the pandemic hinges on one question: How do we stop the next 100,000?

The United States has now recorded 100,000 deaths due to the coronavirus.

It’s a moment to collectively grieve and reflect.

Even as we mourn for those we knew, cry for those we loved and consider also those who have died uncounted, I hope that we can also resolve to learn more, test better, hold our leaders accountable and better protect our citizens so we do not have to reach another grim milestone.

Through public records requests and other reporting, ProPublica has found example after example of delays, mistakes and missed opportunities. The CDC took weeks to fix its faulty test. In Seattle, 33,000 fans attended a soccer match, even after the top local health official said he wanted to end mass gatherings. Houston went ahead with a livestock show and rodeo that typically draws 2.5 million people, until evidence of community spread shut it down after eight days. Nebraska kept a meatpacking plant open that health officials wanted to shut down, and cases from the plant subsequently skyrocketed. And in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic, political infighting between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio hampered communication and slowed decision making at a time when speed was critical to stop the virus’ exponential spread.

COVID-19 has also laid bare many long-standing inequities and failings in America’s health care system. It is devastating, but not surprising, to learn that many of those who have been most harmed by the virus are also Americans who have long suffered from historical social injustices that left them particularly susceptible to the disease.

This massive loss of life wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t simply unfortunate and regrettable. Even without a vaccine or cure, better mitigation measures could have prevented infections from happening in the first place; more testing capacity could have allowed patients to be identified and treated earlier.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not over, far from it.

At this moment, the questions we need to ask are: How do we prevent the next 100,000 deaths from happening? How do we better protect our most vulnerable in the coming months? Even while we mourn, how can we take action, so we do not repeat this horror all over again?

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

Though we’ve long known about infection control problems in nursing homes, COVID-19 got in and ran roughshod.

From the first weeks of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States, when the virus tore through the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have emerged as one of the deadliest settings. As of May 21, there have been around 35,000 deaths of staff and residents in nursing homes and long-term care facilities, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet the facilities have continued to struggle with basic infection control. Federal inspectors have found homes with insufficient staff and a lack of personal protective equipment. Others have failed to maintain social distancing among residents, according to inspection reports ProPublica reviewed. Desperate family members have had to become detectives and activists, one even going as far as staging a midnight rescue of her loved one as the virus spread through a Queens, New York, assisted living facility.

What now? The risk to the elderly will not decrease as time goes by — more than any other population, they will need the highest levels of protection until the pandemic is over. The CEO of the industry’s trade group told my colleague Charles Ornstein: “Just like hospitals, we have called for help. In our case, nobody has listened.” More can be done to protect our nursing home and long term care population. This means regular testing of both staff and residents, adequate protective gear and a realistic way to isolate residents who test positive.

Racial disparities in health care are pervasive in medicine, as they have been in COVID-19 deaths.

African Americans have contracted and died of the coronavirus at higher rates across the country. This is due to myriad factors, including more limited access to medical care as well as environmental, economic and political factors that put them at higher risk of chronic conditions. When ProPublica examined the first 100 recorded victims of the coronavirus in Chicago, we found that 70 were black. African Americans make up 30% of the city’s population.

What now? States should make sure that safety-net hospitals, which serve a large portion of low-income and uninsured patients regardless of their ability to pay, and hospitals in neighborhoods that serve predominantly black communities, are well-supplied and sufficiently staffed during the crisis. More can also be done to encourage African American patients to not delay seeking care, even when they have “innocent symptoms” like a cough or low-grade fever, especially when they suffer other health conditions like diabetes.

Racial disparities go beyond medicine, to other aspects of the pandemic. Data shows that black people are already being disproportionately arrested for social distancing violations, a measure that can undercut public health efforts and further raise the risk of infection, especially when enforcement includes time in a crowded jail.

Essential workers had little choice but to work during COVID-19, but adequate safeguards weren’t put in place to protect them.

We’ve known from the beginning there are some measures that help protect us from the virus, such as physical distancing. Yet millions of Americans haven’t been able to heed that advice, and have had no choice but to risk their health daily as they’ve gone to work shoulder-to-shoulder in meat-packing plants, rung up groceries while being forbidden to wear gloves, or delivered the mail. Those who are undocumented live with the additional fear of being caught by immigration authorities if they go to a hospital for testing or treatment.

What now? Research has shown that there’s a much higher risk of transmission in enclosed spaces than outdoors, so providing good ventilation, adequate physical distancing, and protective gear as appropriate for workers in indoor spaces is critical for safety. We also now know that patients are likely most infectious right before or at the time when symptoms start appearing, so if workplaces are generous about their sick leave policies, workers can err on the side of caution if they do feel unwell, and not have to choose between their livelihoods and their health. It’s also important to have adequate testing capacity, so infections can be caught before they turn into a large outbreak.

Frontline health care workers were not given adequate PPE and were sometimes fired for speaking up about it.

While health workers have not, thankfully, been dying at conspicuously higher rates, they continue to be susceptible to the virus due to their work. The national scramble for ventilators and personal protective equipment has exposed the just-in-time nature of hospitals’ inventories: Nurses across the country have had to work with expired N95 masks, or no masks at all. Health workers have been suspended, or put on unpaid leave, because they didn’t see eye to eye with their administrators on the amount of protective gear they needed to keep themselves safe while caring for patients.

First responders — EMTs, firefighters and paramedics — are often forgotten when it comes to funding, even though they are the first point of contact with sick patients. The lack of a coherent system nationwide meant that some first responders felt prepared, while others were begging for masks at local hospitals.

What now? As states reopen, it will be important to closely track hospital capacity, and if cases rise and threaten their medical systems’ ability to care for patients, governments will need to be ready to pause or even dial back reopening measures. It should go without saying that adequate protective gear is a must. I also hope that hospital administrators are thinking about mental health care for their staffs. Doctors and nurses have told us of the immense strain of caring for patients whom they don’t know how to save, while also worrying about getting sick themselves, or carrying the virus home to their loved ones. Even “heroes” need supplies and support.

What we still have to learn:

There continue to be questions on which data is lacking, such as the effects of the coronavirus on pregnant women. Without evidence-based research, pregnant women have been left to make decisions on their own, sometimes trying to limit their exposure against their employer’s wishes.

Similarly, there’s a paucity of data on children’s risk level and their role in transmission. While we can confidently say that it’s rare for children to get very ill if they do get infected, there’s not as much information on whether children are as infectious as adults. Answering that question would not just help parents make decisions (Can I let my kid go to day care when we live with Grandma?) but also help officials make evidence-based decisions on how and when to reopen schools.

There’s some research I don’t want to rush. Experts say the bar for evidence should be extremely high when it comes to a vaccine’s safety and benefit. It makes sense that we might be willing to use a therapeutic with less evidence on critically ill patients, knowing that without any intervention, they would soon die. A vaccine, however, is intended to be given to vast numbers of healthy people. So yes, we have to move urgently, but we must still take the time to gather robust data.

Our nation’s leaders have many choices to make in the coming weeks and months. I hope they will heed the advice of scientists, doctors and public health officials, and prioritize the protection of everyone from essential workers to people in prisons and homeless shelters who does not have the privilege of staying home for the duration of the pandemic.

The coronavirus is a wily adversary. We may ultimately defeat it with a vaccine or effective therapeutics. But what we’ve learned from the first 100,000 deaths is that we can save lives with the oldest mitigation tactics in the public health arsenal — and that being slow to act comes with a terrible cost.

I refuse to succumb to fatalism, to just accepting the ever higher death toll as inevitable. I want us to make it harder for this virus to take each precious life from us. And I believe we can.

 

 

 

McLaren Health Care’s too secretive about finances, PPE, Michigan nurse union says

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/workforce/mclaren-health-care-s-too-secretive-about-finances-ppe-michigan-nurse-union-says.html?utm_medium=email

About McLaren Health Care

Ten nurse unions in Michigan are accusing McLaren Health Care of not being transparent about its finances and personal protective equipment supply during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the health system said it has shared some of that information.

Many of the nurse unions have filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging that by not sharing information with front-line healthcare workers the Grand Blanc, Mich.-based health system is violating federal labor law, a media release from the Michigan Nurses Association states.

According to the association, each of its 10 unions received a letter from the health system May 15, in which the system refused to divulge how much funding it received in federal COVID-19 grants. The health system also has refused to provide details about its protective gear inventory, the unions allege.

“The fact that they won’t share basic financial information with those of us working on the front lines makes you wonder if they have something to hide,” said Christie Serniak, a nurse at McLaren Central Michigan hospital in Mount Pleasant and president of the Michigan Nurses Association affiliate.

But the health system maintains it has been transparent and has worked with labor unions and bargaining units across the system since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve openly shared information about our operations, the challenges of restrictions on elective procedures, our plans for managing influxes of patients and our supplies of personal protective equipment,” Shela Khan Monroe, vice president of labor and employment relations at McLaren Health Care told Becker’s Hospital Review.

Ms. Khan Monroe said that the information has been shared through weekly meetings, departmental meetings and several union negotiation sessions over the last two months.

The unions also say that the health system has not offered its workers hazard pay or COVID-19 paid leave that is on par with other systems. They say that only workers who test positive for COVID-19 can take additional paid time off.

In a written statement, McLaren disputed the union’s claims about employee leave, saying that employees “dealing with child care and other COVID-related family matters” can take time off to care for loved ones.

McLaren did not specify if this time off is paid. Becker’s has reached out for clarification and will update the article once more information is available.

“We have negotiations pending with several of the unions involved in the coalition, and while we are deeply disappointed in these recent tactics, we will continue to work towards productive outcomes for all concerned,” said Ms. Khan Monroe.

Recently, a coalition of unions urged McLaren Health Care executives to reduce their own salaries before laying off employees.

 

 

 

Melinda Gates: US coronavirus response ‘lacking leadership at the federal level’

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/us-coronavirus-response-lacks-leadership-at-the-federal-level-melinda-gates-151610533.html

Melinda Gates: US coronavirus response “lacks leadership at the ...

Philanthropist Melinda Gates on Thursday sharply criticized the U.S. response to the coronavirus outbreak, telling Yahoo Finance that the country is “lacking leadership at the federal level” and as a result has endured unnecessary deaths and economic pain.

“It’s highly distressing and disappointing,” says Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which she said has donated $300 million to organizations involved in the coronavirus response.

“To have 50 state-grown solutions is inefficient, it makes no sense, and it’s costing people their lives,” she adds.

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday “there’ll be more death” as states lift stay-at-home measures but has urged a path toward reopening the economy in order to blunt job loss and other damaging effects caused by the mandates.

The Trump administration has drawn criticism for what some consider a failure to adequately address the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages. Trump has repeatedly said “nobody” could have foreseen the pandemic though he reportedly received dire warnings as early as February.

“The lack of action is really causing harm and hurt unnecessarily in this country,” Gates says. “I’m incredibly disappointed to see that.”

The White House recently declined to take up guidelines written by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for how schools, restaurants, and other institutions can safely reopen, the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

The Trump administration did release a set of conditions for coronavirus containment that it recommends states meet before they reopen, including a 14-day downward trajectory in new cases or positive test rates. However, many states that remain short of that benchmark have started to reopen or will do it soon, among them Kentucky, Ohio, and Utah, the AP reported on Thursday.

On Friday, the monthly jobs report showed the U.S. economy cut 20.5 million payrolls in April, and the unemployment rate jumped to 14.7%.

The severity of economic pain is a direct result of inaction from the federal government, Gates said.

“It is impacting families now, because if we had a good testing and tracing system like Germany has, we would have started to reopen slowly more places in the economy, people wouldn’t be struggling so much to put a meal on their table,” says Gates, who released a book last year entitled “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.”

‘Difficult tension’ faced by parents at home

She said the U.S. must bolster its benefits for paid sick, medical, and family leave in order to mitigate some of the economic pain and reopen the economy, since some workers will return to their jobs while others will need to remain home to care for sick family members or children educated remotely.

Speaking with Yahoo Finance, she called on Congress to improve the paid sick and family leave expansion passed in March, which excluded many companies from the benefits requirements.

“Congress made a first step that is in one of the stimulus packages, they really did put in sick days and paid leave,” she says. “The problem is, it doesn’t go far enough.”

Moreover, she advocated for a nationwide paid medical and family leave plan — a proposal backed in part by both parties, though they differ sharply on the details.

The Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House remain divided over an additional stimulus measure, while President Donald Trump has sought likely-polarizing tax cuts to be included in the bill, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Gates said she is optimistic that Congress will enact paid medical and family leave.

“Congress is hearing about this difficult tension moms and dads — but particularly moms — are facing at home,” she says.

 

 

 

Cartoon – Just Two on the Front Lines Who Checkout Hundreds of People a Day

Slavery 21st Century

Healthcare CFOs weigh-in on the challenges ahead

https://www.pwc.com/us/en/library/covid-19/pwc-covid-19-cfo-pulse-survey.html

What CFOs think about the economic impact of COVID-19

How finance leaders see a return to work

Business perspectives on what it will take to shift from crisis mode are solidifying. US finance leaders are focused on shoring up financial positions, as US businesses head into a period of even more operational complexity while they orchestrate a safe return to the workplace. Back-to-work playbooks put workforce health first, as companies set course for a phased-in return to the workplace that will not be uniform across the US or internationally, findings from the survey show. Returning employees and customers are going to experience a work environment that will differ in marked ways as a result. Another change likely to endure post-crisis is the strong role corporate leaders have taken within their communities, placing a renewed emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) efforts going forward.

The actions CFOs are taking show how US businesses continue to adjust to very difficult current conditions with an eye toward an evolving post-COVID world. The level of concern related to the crisis is holding steady. It is high but stabilizing, with 72% of respondents reporting that COVID-19 has the potential for “significant impact” to their business operations vs. 74% two weeks ago.

Key findings

Back-to-work playbooks reshape how jobs performed
49% say remote work is here to stay for some roles, as companies plan to alternate crews and reconfigure worksites.

Protecting people top of mind
77% plan to change safety measures like testing, while 50% expect higher demand for enhanced sick leave and other policy protections.

Substantive impacts expected in 2020 results
Half of all respondents (53%) are projecting a decline of at least 10% in company revenue and/or profit this year.

Cost pressures intensify
A third (32%) expect layoffs to occur, as CFOs continue to target costs, while 70% consider deferring or canceling planned investments.

Economic events shaping CFO response last week

This survey, our fourth since emergency lockdowns took effect in the US, reflects the views of 305 US finance leaders during the week of April 20. It was a week when oil futures traded below $0 as energy markets confronted downshifting global demand, Congress replenished emergency funding of $480 billion for small firms and healthcare systems, and everyone heard the call to get ready to go back to work as the US and Europe firmed up plans to ease quarantines.

Post-crisis world taking shape in plans to reboot the workplace

Health and safety are top priorities for leaders as they prepare to bring people back to on-site work. More than three-quarters (77%) are putting new safety measures in place, while others are taking steps to promote physical distancing, such as reconfiguring workspaces (65%). Findings also show where the virus may have longer-lasting impact on ways of working. Half (49%) of companies say they’re planning to make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow. That’s even higher (60%) among financial services organizations.

Takeaways

Among the small percentage of companies that are beginning to bring people back, returning to work will not mean a return to normal. Companies should consider how to help frontline managers lead with empathy, to communicate transparently and make decisions quickly so employees understand where they stand, have access to the resources available to them, and can share feedback to ensure they feel safe and get what they need. Tools such as workforce location tracking and contact tracing can help support employees with suspected or confirmed infections, while also helping to identify the level of risk exposure. Companies looking to make remote work a permanent option will need to enable leaders to manage a blended workforce of on-site and remote workers during the next 12 to 18 months.

Given that many people may be wary of returning to on-site work, there’s an opportunity for companies to create more targeted benefits to help make the transition easier. Paid sick leaves and worker protections, help with childcare, private transportation to and from work, or other benefits could help employees who may need extra flexibility or who want additional support as they prepare to come back.

Forecasting substantive impacts on 2020 performance

A majority of respondents (80%) continue to expect a decline in revenues and/or profits in 2020. Projections by sector vary, with consumer markets likely the hardest hit: one-third (32%) of CFOs expect a 25% or greater decline in revenues and/or profits this year, compared to 24% of respondents in all sectors.

Takeaways

Outlooks for financial results have held relatively steady in the survey over the last month, and are probably indicative of actual impact. Companies have had the time to evaluate the effects. CFO projections for declining revenue and profits coincide with a widening realization that the US economy is in recession. Since mid-March, jobless claims have soared past 26 million, and Congress passed relief packages of $2.5 trillion. CFOs are evaluating a wide range of scenarios that cover the health situation, the shape of the economic recovery, the spillover into the financial markets, and the resulting impacts on their business. This crisis is setting a new benchmark standard for “unknowable.”

Cost pressures intensifying

CFOs are considering additional ways to scale back on planned investment and/or other fixed costs amid volatility in demand. A third (32%) expect layoffs to occur in the next month, up from 26% two weeks ago. Protecting cash and liquidity positions is paramount. Financial impacts of COVID-19, including effects on liquidity and capital resources, remain the top concern of CFOs (71%). Over half (56%) say they are changing company financing plans, up from 46% two weeks ago.

Among other actions, 43% plan to adjust guidance, which is consistent with responses two weeks ago. This figure will likely increase as companies go through the earnings season over the next two to three weeks. Separately, 91% of respondents are planning to include a discussion of COVID-19 in external reporting. Depending on the type of company, this can mean inclusion in financial statements and/or in risk factors and MD&A results of operations, earnings release or MD&A liquidity sections.

Takeaways

Many CFOs have focused on how they can manage their cash pressures to ride out the crisis. Common approaches have included stop-gap measures, such as hiring freezes and tightening controls on discretionary costs to put an end to travel and events, or the use of contractors. Findings show that these types of cost actions are likely to continue, and they remain at the top of the CFO agenda.

Of those who say they’re considering deferring or canceling planned investments, 80% are considering facilities and general capital expenditures. At the same time, investment programs in areas that are considered important to future growth — including digital transformations, customer experience, or cybersecurity and privacy — are less likely to be targeted. CFOs will increasingly look for ways to prioritize costs in these areas, as businesses grow more confident in recovery prospects — even though current demand is subdued.

Priorities to de-risk supply chains

As companies continue to wade through mitigation efforts and start to think about recovery, many are planning changes to make their supply chains more resilient. Findings show CFOs prioritizing specific actions: 56% cite developing alternate options for sourcing, and 54% say better understanding the financial and operational health of their suppliers.

Takeaways

Findings confirm an emphasis on de-risking supply chains, as companies prioritize the health and reliability of their supplier base among changes they’re planning as a result of COVID-19. In particular, there is a focus on managing risk around supply elements, such as reducing structural vulnerability with other sourcing options.

Some companies are starting to invest in creating data-backed profiles of their supplier base so they know where and when to look for second sources. Others are increasing communication with suppliers to better understand financial health. For many, conducting deeper financial and health reviews of suppliers will become a regular part of their business reviews. Physical supply chain relocations will likely happen only as a last resort, given the costs involved. However, automation of certain elements of the supply chain — to eliminate time-consuming manual tracking efforts and check tariff structures, for example — will likely become more common as companies seek better data to make more informed decisions.

Strategies yet to change, but tech likely to drive M&A

The impact of the outbreak on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) strategies remains mixed. While 40% of respondents say their company’s M&A strategy is not being affected by COVID-19, compared with 34% two weeks ago, one in five say it’s too difficult to assess what changes, if any, will need to be made to strategy. CFOs within the technology, media and telecommunications industry stand out in particular. They are less likely to report decreasing appetite for M&A due to COVID-19, compared with peers in other sectors, and 55% say the crisis hasn’t changed their M&A strategy.

Takeaways

These findings highlight the fundamental strengths of the tech sector and suggest it will be among those driving M&A in the months ahead.  Tech giants, in particular, have large cash reserves. Moreover, demand for some tech products and services is strong as businesses return to work — 40% of CFOs say they will accelerate automation and new ways of working as they transition back. Additionally, technologies such as drones, artificial intelligence and robotics, will likely enjoy wider adoption in the post-COVID-19 environment. This leaves tech better-positioned to weather the pandemic’s economic fallout and to execute on inorganic growth strategies. M&A is likely to recover faster than the US economy, with tech among the cash and capital-rich sectors leading the charge. PwC studies show that a combination of factors has been driving a decoupling of deals from the broader economy.

Business recovery timeframes have extended

Organizations are realizing the business recovery from the impacts of the virus will take longer. The March measures of manufacturing and services activities show sharp drops. Demand is not only declining, it’s shifting. Moreover, even as some US states start to reopen, difficulties in setting up testing could keep some states in a holding pattern. As a result, for CFOs, the time required to return to “business as usual” the moment that COVID-19 ends continues to lengthen. Currently, 48% believe it will take at least three months to return to normal, up from 39% two weeks ago.

Takeaways

As reality sets in and companies understand the true impacts to their operations, CFO perceptions of the length of time to business recovery has extended. According to our analysis of how companies gauge their response to the crisis in PwC’s COVID-19 Navigator diagnostic tool, the expected impact of COVID-19 on businesses globally remains high, with consumer markets and manufacturing the most susceptible among industries. Put another way, businesses that are less reliant on a large, complex supply chain to deliver products, or are able to work relatively effectively while remote, are also likely to be among the least exposed.

Consumer-facing companies reconfigure physical sites as shutdowns start to lift

Companies in consumer-facing sectors continue to contend with both sides of the demand equation, as consumers sheltering in place focus single-mindedly on essential products to the exclusion of other offerings. Consumer markets (CM) CFOs are more likely to list a decrease in consumer confidence and spending as a top-three concern than they were two weeks ago (66% vs. 50%). For CM CFOs, consumer confidence trends translate almost directly to revenues, with 32% projecting an adverse impact on revenue and/or profit of at least 25% in 2020, compared with 24% of respondents across all industries.

In response, almost three-quarters of CM CFOs (73%) are considering deferring or canceling planned investments, targeting mostly general capital expenses, such as facilities. They also say technologies that can improve their understanding of changes in customer demand are a top-three priority as they plan changes to their supply chain strategies (41% vs. 30% for all sectors).

CM CFOs are planning workplace safety measures (86% vs. 77% for all sectors) and reconfiguring work sites to promote physical distancing as part of their transition back to on-site work (77% vs. 65% for all sectors). They recognize that consumers want the assurance of a safe physical environment above all else, especially because the majority of CM products and services require a physical component, despite the continuing shift to online.

Takeaways

Consumer-facing companies continue to be among the hardest hit, as the public health crisis keeps the majority of consumers confined to their homes for now. As they grapple with immediate challenges, CM companies are pulling back on capital investments. However, most are still planning to shore up their digital presence in response to accelerated online demand that could last well beyond the recovery period.

Health system pivots to new ways of working

What’s on the mind of financial leaders in the health industry? As they plan to bring more of their workforce back on-site, they are more likely than leaders in other industries to be leaning on technology to help them manage staffing uncertainties. Fifty-four percent of healthcare CFO respondents said they plan to accelerate automation and new ways of working, compared with an average of 40% across all industries.

Healthcare organizations are simultaneously solving two critical issues: uncertainty about demand and protecting their workforce. Health organization CFOs (70%) were more likely than executives from other industries (an average of 50%) to report that they expect higher demand for employee protections in the next month. Meanwhile, consumer anxiety over their own safety is driving up uncertainty about demand for healthcare and medical products. Forty-one percent of healthcare finance leaders listed tools to better understand customer demand as a top-three priority area when considering changes to their supply chain strategies, compared to 30% of financial leaders in all sectors. Fifty-one percent of healthcare finance leaders said they are making staffing changes as a result of slowed demand.

Takeaways

survey conducted by PwC’s Health Research Institute in early April found that some consumers are delaying care and medications amid the pandemic. In this latest PwC survey of CFOs, healthcare leaders report uncertainty about how much of their business will return as the threat of the pandemic ebbs, making staffing decisions difficult.

As the nation continues to grapple with the pandemic, getting back to work is top of mind for US financial leaders overall, but this is an especially pressing issue for health leaders. They must plan for their own workforces, while dealing with an unfolding financial calamity — 81% expect their company’s revenue and/or profits to decline this year as a result of COVID-19. On par with other industries, they expect this decline, even though their organizations play central roles in addressing the human toll of the pandemic. One strategy is to use telehealth technology to virtually care for patients, thereby protecting patients and caregivers during the pandemic.

Financial firms see fewer layoffs, but slower recovery

Financial services (FS) CFOs are bracing for a longer road back to normal. About a third (35%) now think it could take six months to get back to business as usual, up sharply from 15% just two weeks ago. They’re also more optimistic about the bottom line. More than a quarter (27%) of FS survey respondents expect revenue and/or profits to fall by 10% or less. Across all industries, only 18% felt as confident.

Takeaways

Banks are playing a critical role in helping stabilize the economy, as they work on the front lines to distribute CARES Act provisions. Along with insurers and asset managers, they also rely heavily on workers with specialized technical and institutional knowledge. This may explain why FS CFOs expect fewer layoffs (15% vs. 32% overall) or furloughs (17% vs. 44% overall) over the next month. Now, they’re trying to focus on keeping workers healthy and safe.

Conversations are starting to shift toward when and how to transition back to physical offices. For some employees, work may look very different: More FS CFOs are considering making remote work a permanent option for roles that allow it (60% vs. 49% overall). To better protect their employees, they’re also looking to evaluate new tools to support workforce tracking and contact tracing (32% vs. 22% overall) as part of the return-to-work process.

Deeper insight into health of suppliers is top priority for industrial products

The industrial products (IP) sector is in full-throttle cost-cutting mode. Nearly all IP CFOs (96%) report considering cost containment measures, compared with 87% two weeks ago. Some of this comes in the form of layoffs: 49% of IP CFOs expect layoffs to occur vs. 36% two weeks ago. The longer the crisis lasts, the longer the impact on recovery times for their business. When asked how long it would take for their business to return to business as usual if the COVID-19 crisis were to end today, 15% of IP CFOs said less than one month, down from 25% two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, they’re closely examining challenged supply chains. When asked to list their top-three priority areas when planning changes to supply-chain strategies, 66% of IP CFOs identified understanding the financial and operational health of their suppliers, compared to 54% of CFOs across all industries. A majority (56%) also cited developing additional and alternate sourcing options as a priority. And the extent of the financial damage is sinking in: 65% of IP CFOs estimate 2020 revenues and/or profits will drop at least 10%.

Takeaways

IP CFOs are signaling they’re in the thick of the crisis, as they absorb historical lows in production, with March US industrial output plunging to levels not seen since the end of WWII. Continued cost actions are still in the cards.

IP finance leaders are looking ahead to get back to business, with some already bringing workers back on-site. Some are expecting changes to the workplace. Thirty-nine percent of IP CFOs are considering making remote work a permanent option for roles that allow, and 31% are considering accelerating automation and new ways of working. While these are still early days for US producers in returning to work, bringing millions of workers back into the fold may well usher in more change management than the industry now expects.

Tech, media and telecom well-positioned to power the recovery

Technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) companies are well-positioned for recovery from the initial blow of COVID-19. As they stabilize operations in response to the crisis, the percentage of TMT CFOs anticipating revenue and/or profit declines is down 19 percentage points from two weeks ago to 65%. The data suggest that TMT companies are preparing for a future in which virtual work options gain greater acceptance over traditional office settings. TMT companies are more likely to reduce their real estate footprint as they transition back to on-site work (38% compared to 26% for all sectors), and 55% say they’re planning to make remote work permanent for positions that allow.

Of those who said they’re considering deferring or canceling planned investments, TMT companies are less likely to reduce digital transformation investments (13%) than all sectors (22%). Their increased optimism about digital investment as they strategize for the future is further borne out by the data: Two weeks ago, of those who said they were deferring or canceling planned investment, TMT was on track to reduce digital investments at the same rate as other sectors (25%).

Takeaways

The resilience of TMT companies is evident in their approach to this crisis. Bolstered by robust liquidity, the majority of companies in the sector are looking ahead to a recovery they will power by using both organic growth and M&A. In the wake of a crisis that has accelerated more widespread virtual connectivity, look for new emerging-tech-enabled business models to take shape.

Where to focus next

COVID-19 has put businesses under enormous strain to drive new ways of working. When the pandemic began, many companies put their people’s health and safety at the center of their decision-making, and they appear to be doing the same as they prepare to ramp up business. With most firms expecting to bring people back on-site in phases, leaders will need to help employees adjust to a changed environment while still managing the well-being, engagement and productivity of all workers. Purpose-led communication will continue to be critical to keep people informed, and leaders should demonstrate empathy while helping employees adjust to what will likely be an extended transition period. 

 

 

Whole Foods staff protest against conditions as coronavirus cases rise

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/apr/15/whole-food-protests-coronavirus-working-conditions-sickout

Coronavirus workplace conditions spur protests at Whole Foods, Amazon

Workers say too little is being done to enforce social distancing in stores, and some are not given masks or training on cleaning.

Whole Foods workers across the US are planning to hold another sickout protest on 1 May, as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infections at the supermarket chain continues to rise and workers charge the Amazon-owned company is doing too little to help them.

Workers complain too little is being done to enforce social distancing in stores; it is difficult, and sometimes impossible, to qualify for sick pay; and some are not given masks or training on cleaning. In the meantime, Whole Foods is reportedly recording record sales.

Dan Steinbrook, an employee at Whole Foods in Boston, said: “The bottom line is we don’t think Whole Foods or Amazon is doing nearly enough as they could be to protect both employees and customers at the store in terms of personal safety and public health.”

Steinbrook, who also participated in a sickout protest on 31 March organized by Whole Worker, a worker activism group said: “Grocery stores are one of the only places open to the public so they’ve become a significant public health concern in terms of stopping the spread of this disease. Any transmission we can stop at the grocery stores is extremely important for saving a lot of lives.”

Whole Foods workers have become increasingly concerned over the confirmed cases of coronavirus at Whole Foods stores. Employees have tested positive for coronavirus at Whole Foods locations across the country including West Orange, New JerseySudbury, MassachusettsBrookline, MassachusettsArlington, MassachusettsHingham, MassachusettsCambridge, MassachusettsSan Francisco, CaliforniaNew York City, New YorkFort Lauderdale, FloridaNew Orleans, Louisiana; and Allentown, Pennsylvania.

The Guardian spoke to several Whole Foods workers across the US about working conditions and the company’s policies. The workers requested to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.

“I haven’t felt safe going into work because Whole Foods hasn’t really done anything to combat the amount of Amazon shoppers in the stores,” said a Whole Foods employee at Bowery Place in New York City, the center of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. “The store has been closing earlier, but they still want us to stay until 11pm to clean, and we aren’t trained to clean or given masks or anything.”

Whole Foods workers have noted some stores where a worker has tested positive for coronavirus have yet to be publicly reported in the media.

“Team members are being told there was a deep clean overnight and not to worry,” said a Whole Foods worker in West Bloomfield, Michigan. “I’m scared to work. I have three immune sensitive people living in my house and I don’t want to get them sick, but I can’t lose my only income.”

A worker at Whole Foods in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, said there have been two positive cases at their store. “It has been almost impossible to maintain basic social distancing practices. We’ve seen huge sales ever since the outbreak and it’s been all hands on deck. As of 1 April, there were no limits on the number of customers allowed in at a given time,” said the employee.

In Minnesota, a Whole Foods employee is currently on unpaid leave after experiencing coronavirus symptoms when their roommate was advised by their doctor to self-quarantine.

“When I talked to my HR department they told me I would need to take a two week leave as well, but unless I test positive for Covid-19, I do not qualify for the ‘guaranteed two weeks paid time off’ corporate is saying they are offering,” said the worker. “Everyone knows tests are limited and unavailable to most people unless they are showing severe symptoms, and as retail workers, many of us cannot afford to go to the doctor unless we’re in desperate need of medical attention.”

A Whole Foods employee in Massachusetts is also currently taking unpaid leave after experiencing coronavirus symptoms.

“I’m in a situation where I can’t get tested or afford a doctor. At first I was told I wouldn’t be eligible for sick pay without a positive test. Later I was told that I might qualify, that pay was being disbursed on a case by case basis. My case has been pending for over a week with no response and I ran out of paid time off,” said the worker.

“My parents lent me money, so I’ll be able to finish quarantine and still afford groceries. Money was tight before bills were due, and those fears kept me from reaching out to a doctor. My symptoms were mild, but I don’t know what I would have done if they got serious.”

A Whole Foods spokesperson told the Guardian: “The safety of our team members and customers is our top priority and we are diligently following all guidance from local health and food safety authorities. We’ve been working closely with our store Team Members, and are supporting the diagnosed Team Members, who are in quarantine.

“Out of an abundance of caution, each of these stores performed an additional deep cleaning and disinfection, on top of our current enhanced sanitation measures. As we prioritize the health and safety of our customers and Team Members, we will continue to do the following to help contain the spread of Covid-19.”