How The Private Sector Is Fighting The COVID-19 Pandemic

April 10, 2020 by Dan McCue
(Photo courtesy Comcast)

WASHINGTON – To no one’s surprise, the coronavirus outbreak — once it breached our shores — became all anyone was talking about.

Fears over the pandemic and the grim death toll projections dominated the early narrative, to be surpassed later by attention focused on the federal government’s passage of three economic relief bills and the looming prospect of a fourth.

More recently, huge unemployment benefit claims numbers have stoked concerns of a deep, if not prolonged recession.

What’s been a bit overlooked, however, is how large corporations and small businesses have responded in these often chaotic times, offering services to help their employees and local communities as they join the rest of us in following the stay-at-home and social distancing recommendations of public health organizations.

One recent example is the decision by Comcast chief Brian Roberts, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Shell and other Comcast division chiefs to donate their salaries to coronavirus-related relief efforts.

In a memo sent to 190,000 Comcast employees on April 1, Roberts noted the company has committed $500 million to salaries and benefits for employees affected by shutdowns.

Now Roberts has announced, he, Shell, Comcast CFO Mike Cavanagh, Comcast Cable Chief Dave Watson and Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch, were going to go a step further, donating 100% of their salaries for the duration of the crisis to charities that support COVID-19 relief efforts.

“This is obviously an incredibly difficult time for our society,” Roberts wrote. “We hope in some small way we can make this time easier on our employees, our local communities and our customers.”

Roberts’ missive was no back-slapping, self-congratulatory homily.

More than three quarters of the memo was a thank you to the company’s engineers, technicians and call center representatives who “are working around the clock to keep our network running and making sure our customers maintain their vital internet connectivity.”

It also expressed its gratitude to the NBC and Sky news organizations, who Roberts said “are keeping our world informed – setting up remote studios in basements, living rooms and everything in between.”

ViacomCBS, another media company, has launched a $100 million fund to provide support to the crew members, actors, and filmmakers whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the production shutdown.

In addition ViacomCBS is matching up to $1,000 per year in charitable contributions made by its full-time employees.

“In these uncertain times, giving back and supporting the well-being of our families, communities, and ourselves is more important than ever,” ViacomCBS president and CEO Bob Bakish wrote in a message to staff.

“I couldn’t be prouder of how our company has come together to provide relief and support to those who need it,” he said.

It turns out, stories like these abound. Among those collecting them is Center Forward, an organization dedicated to bringing together members of Congress, not-for-profits, academic experts, trade associations, corporations and unions to find common ground on pressing issues.

In a recent paper, Center Forward cited scores of examples of American business leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators working to implement programs to help their local communities.

Helping Small Businesses

These included Uber Eats introducing initiatives, including the elimination of all delivery fees for small, independent restaurants to help these often small and local businesses weather the coronavirus-related reduction in business and cash flow.

In addition, the online food ordering and delivery platform has committed 300,000 free meals to health care workers and first responders in the U.S. and Canada.

Also coming to the aid of the small business community are credit unions across America that are now offering loan modifications and fee waivers, as well as creating new loan products to help these critical job-creators.

As previously noted, larger corporations are also stepping up to help their local counterparts.

For example, Facebook plans to roll out a $100 million small business grants program to support up to 30,000 eligible small businesses in 30 countries that have been impacted by the coronavirus.

Target also plans to commit $10 million to expand relief and assistance to team members, local communities, national organizations and global response organizations helping respond to the coronavirus.

Specifically, these funds will go to team members who are most impacted by the virus, local community foundations focused on assisting vulnerable populations, national nonprofits such as Feeding America, and organizations such as UNICEF that are providing critical medical equipment to regions around the world.

Many companies have shifted their production efforts from their usual products to ventilators, hand sanitizer, and masks for health care workers around the U.S..

For example, 3M and Ford are making 35 million air purifying respirators per month, General Motors is working to make ventilators, Fanatics is using the fabric from MLB jerseys to make one million masks and gowns, and HanesBrands is producing medical masks. OYO is offering free hotel rooms to doctors, nurses, and medical first responders at 300 hotels in the U.S.

Health Care

Across the United States, many health care, pharmaceutical, and insurance companies are offering a wide range of services to aid their employees and Americans.

Bayer is donating one million health and wellness products, including over-the-counter medications and multivitamins, to underserved communities. Health insurance providers are activating emergency plans to ensure that Americans have access to the prevention, testing, and treatment needed.

For example, Anthem, Aetna, Cigna, UnitedHealthcare, and Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s (BCBSA) affiliated health plans will waive copays, coinsurance, and deductibles for the diagnostic tests related to the coronavirus.

Many insurance companies and all 36 locally based, independently operated BCBS companies and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Federal Employee Program announced expanded coverage for telehealth services, though specifics of coverage vary by company.

Meanwhile, Bayer has donated 3 million tablets of Resochin (chloroquine phosphate) to the U.S. Government.

New data from initial preclinical and evolving clinical research conducted in China, while limited, shows potential for the use of Resochin in treating patients with COVID-19 infection.

AmerisourceBergen is working with the suppliers of hydroxychloroquine and other treatments being used to treat COVID-19 to secure products and distribute to customers. Lilly has joined efforts with AbCellera to co-develop antibodies for the potential treatment and prevention of COVID-19.

Additionally, Lilly scientists are partnering with the Indiana State Department of Health, with support from the FDA, to accelerate testing in Indiana for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Lilly will not accept payment from government agencies, hospitals, insurance companies or patients for conducting or analyzing tests. Lilly also joined a cross-industry collaboration and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to accelerate the development, manufacture and delivery of vaccines, diagnostics, and treatments for COVID-19 in response to the pandemic.

Amneal, Sandoz, Sun Pharmaceutical, and Teva are donating hydroxychloroquine sulfate to hospitals, ongoing clinical trials, and the Strategic National Stockpile.

Technology

Many technology and social media companies are introducing various programs to support the public. Softbank has donated 1.4 million N95 respirator masks to New York.

Apple has also pledged to donate 9 million industrial masks to health care workers in the United States and Europe.

Additionally, Apple has released a new COVID-19 website and app that were created in partnership with the CDC, the White House Coronavirus Task Force and FEMA. The COVID-19 app and website allow users to answer a series of questions around risk factors, recent exposure and symptoms for themselves or a loved one.

Facebook also introduced a coronavirus information center that will appear at the top of users’ news feeds. The virtual information center will include updates from health organizations and encourage individuals to practice social distancing.

Facebook is offering $1 million in small grants to support local news organizations covering COVID-19 in the U.S. and Canada and $1 million in grant support for fact-checking organizations around the world.

Telecommunications and Internet

The Federal Communications Commission has introduced The Keep Americans Connected Pledge.

This pledge promises not to terminate service to any resident or small business customer, opens Wi-Fi hotspots to Americans, and waives any late fees related to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to signing the FCC’s pledge, both Comcast and AT&T have promised to help low-income American families remain connected.

Comcast is helping millions of low-income Americans by offering two months of free Internet to new Internet Essentials (IE) customers and by increasing the speed from 15/2 MBPS to 25/3 MBPS for all new and existing IE customers.

In order to provide additional relief and support, AT&T will offer unlimited home internet to customers and Internet access to qualifying limited income families for $10 a month. AT&T will also offer conference calls and video conferencing with Cisco Webex Meetings for businesses, universities, and schools to stay connected.

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