April 13, 2020

The Return to Work

Industry leaders are increasingly warning that for many businesses to survive, operations need to resume at least on a controlled basis before a coronavirus vaccine becomes available. While the CDC has updated its guidelines for managing workplaces in essential services through social distancing, protective equipment, temperature checks and sanitization, there are no established best practices for non-essential businesses. President Trump is forming a council to reopen the U.S. for business and his Democratic campaign rival Joe Biden proposed his idea to get America back to work over the weekend. But companies have an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and drive discussion on how to safely and responsibly get back to work. We recommend convening medical experts, local government leaders, stakeholder groups and other industry leaders — including competitors — with the goal of sharing resources and aligning on a gold standard system in line with the latest health guidance. The return to work in China and Italy and continuing operations of essential businesses stateside provide some potential solutions.

  • Limit number of employees working at any time;
  • Only allow employees who pass rapid antibody tests proving prior infection to return;
  • Stagger operations by geography and demography relative to the hardest hit areas/populations;
  • Require employees to demonstrate disease prevention proficiency;
  • Offer food and housing options for project-based work to limit contact with others; and
  • Update emergency and contingency plans.

Whither the Hill hearing?

It’s not just you – Congress is also still trying to figure out how to work from home. Multiple Senate committees are experimenting with what they’re calling paper hearings. Under this format, the panel picks an issue and “witnesses” draft testimony that gets posted online at a certain time, along with written statements from panel leadership. Then the rest of the committee is invited to submit written questions, to which witnesses have roughly a week to respond. The approach got good reviews for the Commerce Committee’s hearing last week on big data’s role in fighting COVID-19, but it may not be a perfect fix. After completing one paper hearing in March, the Armed Services Committee late last week scrapped plans for its next one. The committee cited concerns the process uses up too many Pentagon resources amid the DOD’s pandemic response. If you’re wondering whether Capitol Hill is going to attempt virtual video hearings a la your daily Zoom meetings, Roll Call says the logistics just aren’t there yet.

COVID-19 By the Numbers

China Hawks are Circling

Even before the 2020 election is decided, some congressional China hawks may already be eyeing 2024. Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Tom Cotton of Arkansas – all seen as rising Republican stars – are seizing every opportunity to use the COVID-19 pandemic to grow support for their hardline policies toward China. Using China’s handling of the pandemic and reported withholding of information that exacerbated its global impact, these senators have pushed for new sanctions on China, mandates for domestic manufacturing and controls on American exports, the New York Times reports. It remains unclear if and how these efforts will materialize into new, hardline policies toward China in the near-term or how far congressional Democrats will go in supporting these efforts. One policy specific to medical supply chain issues has won support from progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), who called it a “common-sense solution.” But it seems likely this faction of the Republican Party will continue to be vocal in its opposition to China and make U.S.-China politics prominent leading up to the 2024 election.

It’s the Economy, COVID

The economy has taken quite a hit as people are confined to their homes and businesses are shuttered. Polling data shows that the percentage of adults that are very concerned with COVID-19’s effect on the economy has consistently increased in recent weeks, with concern spiking the week that many businesses began shutting their doors, peaking as the stock market hit its year-to-date low and decreasing slightly after Congress enacted its first stimulus bill. The percentage of adults not at all concerned has dwindled from 14% to 3% over that same time period. If there’s a bright side, though, the pessimism appears to be leveling off: The percentage who are very concerned has remained relatively constant as Congress considers further legislative action and the stock market continues to fluctuate.

Handshaking…A Dead Art?

The handshake is believed to have originated in 5th century B.C. Greece as a symbol of peace, indicating that neither person was carrying a weapon. While there is an amazing diversity in greeting customs around the world, handshaking has become ubiquitous, especially in American politics and business. Handshakes have shaped global affairs in the last 50 years: President Nixon shaking hands with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in 1972 (the handshake that changed the world), President Clinton gesturing as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat shake hands in 1993 (the Oslo handshake), and President Trump shaking hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2017 (handshake heard ‘round the world). Is this all coming to an end because of COVID-19? Over recent years, the fist bump has become more popular and President Obama certainly helped it become more mainstream after a bit of a bumpy start. And there is evidence the fist bump is more hygenic. Will the fist bump be the new handshake or is even that still too much touching in our new germophobic state?