This week, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States exceeded that of any other country. Twenty-six states have instituted some form of shelter in place or work-stoppage policy, and hospitals in the most affected cities are beginning to become overwhelmed.
The best science we have predicts that we are just now entering the period when cases will accelerate. And while a lack of testing makes it difficult to know the mortality rate, it is clear that many will lose their lives. Estimates of potential lives lost range widely, but whatever the ultimate toll, every single death is a tragedy.
At Stand Together, our philanthropic community is mobilizing to do all we can to help people make it through. This includes new efforts to assist those who have lost their jobs, parents with kids home from school, and policy makers across the country making difficult decisions.
Given the unprecedented nature of the crisis, we must do more. Every one of us has a role to play to help see our country through.
The question regarding the role that business can play is one that needs to be addressed.
On the one hand, continuing all business operations as they were before the coronavirus will undoubtedly facilitate its spread, putting more people at risk.
On the other hand, shutting down all businesses will prevent people from being able to respond effectively, including those who are sick and those who care for the sick. Millions of people are already experiencing unemployment, which brings its own public health consequences.
Fortunately, the choice between “business as usual” or “close all business” is a false choice.
This is not a matter, as some have suggested, of weighing economic costs against lives lost. The question is: What is the most effective way to ensure all people in the country have the best chance to live—both during and after this crisis has passed, no matter how long it is with us?
To answer that question, businesses must quickly define the conditions under which they can responsibly operate in order to continue to employ people and produce the products and services Americans rely upon, while protecting public health.
Doing this requires input from public health professionals and policy makers, as well as business leaders and employees who have practical knowledge about ground-level business operations regarding what’s possible and what’s not.
As a philanthropic community that works with hundreds of business leaders, Stand Together is seeking input from those leaders, along with public health experts, policy makers, and employees to develop standards that businesses can use to help determine whether or not they can operate in a manner that protects public health, and how.
If you’d like to get involved in this effort, please contact us at MakeADifference@standtogether.org.
We aim to develop general standards rather than specific prescriptions because while all businesses must be vigilant about protecting public health, each faces different challenges given the nature of their business and where they are located. The prescriptions appropriate for a concert venue are not the same as an automated manufacturing facility. But both should be expected to operate in a way that protects public health.
Many businesses and communities have already produced helpful guides. If your business has found an effective way to adjust, please let us know so we can share best practices.
What’s needed is fast action that unites people behind real solutions. The extremes that are emerging in this discussion are unhelpful.
We should neither ban business activity indefinitely nor should we demand a date when businesses will function as they did prior to the coronavirus. Put another way, businesses should not operate in a manner that irresponsibly risks public health and neither should businesses close down if they can operate in a manner that protects public health.
We all want what’s best for society. And in an unprecedented situation there are honest questions about how to achieve that.
We hope that this new effort at Stand Together is a chance to help unite people around answers to those questions.
Please contact us if you would like to be involved.
CEO, Stand Together
Executive Director, Stand Together Ventures