North America Update: March 24
- Democrats and Republicans in Congress are closing in on a massive $2 trillion stimulus package to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spent several hours in Congress today in negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) after Democrats blocked the legislation on Monday evening. The package would extend extraordinary — and unprecedented — taxpayer assistance to millions of American and foreign companies that have been hammered by the fast-moving economic crisis. It would extend one-time cash payments to most Americans, aimed at flooding the economy with money. The bill is being rushed through Congress without public hearings or a formal review; it is unclear how effective the measures will be in arresting the economy’s sudden fall. In addition to payments to individuals, the bill would also create a $500 billion lending program for companies, states, and cities, and extend another $367 billion to help small companies deal with payroll problems. It would bolster the unemployment insurance system and pump $150 billion into U.S. hospitals. The bill has more than doubled in size in just a few days, amounting to the largest emergency stimulus package in American history.
- President Trump said Tuesday that he wants the country “opened up” by Easter — April 12 — while some experts warned of a worsening crisis. A World Health Organization (WHO) official said that the United States has the potential to become the new epicenter of the global crisis. These comments marked the escalation of a complicated debate in recent days, both inside and outside the White House, over how to balance the public health benefits of coronavirus shutdowns against the broad economic pain those measures are causing.
- More than 130 million Americans are being urged by cities and states to stay at home. There have been 544 deaths in the U.S. from coronavirus and about 44,100 identified cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. reported more than 13,000 new infections on Monday alone. With more than 25,000 cases, New York state has emerged as the epicenter of the crisis nationwide with the highest and fastest rate of infection.
- COVID-19 cases in Canada have now surged past 2,000, with 25 deaths. Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer revealed that 90% of new cases are the result of community spread.
- The federal government has so far declined to invoke the Emergencies Act, however Canadian provinces are all taking measures to mitigate the pandemic, including a $5-billion coronavirus relief plan (British Columbia); closely tracking community transmission (Alberta); increasing calls for self-isolation, even if travelled only within Canada (Manitoba); ordering the closures of non-essential businesses (Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland); creating a system of fines (PEI); or closing borders to all but returning residents (Nunavut).
- Spain recorded its largest daily increase in new cases on Tuesday, with approximately 6,600 new infections and more than 500 new fatalities.
- The G7 released a statement on Tuesday stating that they “will do whatever is necessary to restore confidence and economic growth and to protect jobs, businesses, and the resilience of the financial system” while also pledging “to promote global trade and investment to underpin prosperity.”
- In the United Kingdom, the government announced plans to open a hospital at a convention center in London with capacity for 4,000 people. 11,788 former medical professionals have answered the government’s call for retired or former NHS staff to return to the health service. The UK also announced that 5,500 final year medics and 18,700 final year nurses will move to the front lines to help the country through the crisis.
- The European Commission on Monday called on Europe’s telecom companies to share people’s anonymized and aggregated mobile metadata to track how COVID-19 was spreading and to aid in the fight against the virus. National agencies are already working with telecoms to track the spread of the virus through such anonymized digital information. Countries including Spain and Poland have created apps that more accurately monitor people’s movements.
- Unilever announced a donation of €100 million worth of soap and disinfectant to help fight the spread of the virus.
BUSINESS RESPONSES TO CORONAVIRUS
Below are summaries of interesting business responses to COVID-19 in recent days. Weber Shandwick is proud to partner with each of these companies.
- On Monday, Roche Holding AG said it has received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s clearance to test its rheumatoid arthritis treatment on patients hospitalized with severe pneumonia caused by COVID-19. The company said it was beginning a late-stage study to test the drug in what would be the first well-controlled study of the drug, Actemra, on COVID-19 patients. Click here for article.
- The U.S. Postal Service is taking new steps to protect employees who remain concerned they do not have the proper resources to stay safe. USPS is providing non-career workers with access to 80 hours of paid leave, enabling individuals to take leave if they are vulnerable to COVID-19 or to care for loved ones, and allowing some groups of employees to work remotely. The agency has committed to ramping up its efforts to clean “frequently touched items.” Citing the national diversion to frontline health care workers of personal protective equipment, USPS has promised to make standard surgical masks and gloves available to workers upon request. The Postal Service has committed to keeping the mail operational, noting the agency is “part of the nation’s critical infrastructure” by delivering medicines, Social Security checks and online purchases. In a statement, USPS said that it makes shelter-in-place and other social distancing restrictions possible. It stressed there is no evidence that COVID-19 is being spread through the mail. USPS said it is regularly communicating with employees through videos, email, newsletters and, at the local level, “standup talks” about the latest developments. The agency has been in talks with its unions on a daily basis to provide updates, and officials on both sides said the groups have worked together amicably. Click here for article.
- Coca-Cola has changed its ad that is featured on its Times Square billboard. The Coca-Cola script is normally connected letters. Now the image is of the letters spread apart, with the tag line saying “Staying apart is the best way to stay connected.” A Coke spokesperson told the publication that it will only be seen in Times Square. Click here for article.
- Unilever Plc said on Tuesday it would protect its workforce from the financial impact of the coronavirus by continuing to pay contractors and other part time staff for up to three months. The maker of Dove soaps and Knorr soup also unveiled a $543.25 million relief program to help its “most vulnerable” small- and medium-sized suppliers as well as provide credit to select small-scale retailers. Click here for article.
- IBM is working with a number of national labs and other institutions to offer a total of 330 petaflops of computing power to various projects in epidemiology, bioinformatics, and molecular modeling. IBM and its partners will coordinate the efforts to evaluate proposals and provide access to high-performance computing resources to those that are most likely to have an immediate impact. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are also part of the consortium. Click here for article.
- Vulcan Inc. and the Paul G. Allen Foundation announced several donations and initiatives to support COVID-19 response efforts in Seattle. The foundation is donating $500,000 to The Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund and $100,000 to the COVID-19 Arts Emergency Relief Fund. Click here for article.
Economic Struggles and Personal Toll on Newsrooms
- As media outlets continue to find ways to make ends meet during this time, more and more regional news outlets have put a pause on print distribution to ease financial burdens. Some media companies have stopped using freelancers while others have laid off dozens of workers, leaving only a bare-bones editorial staff to continue reporting.
- The Providence Business News announced it will pause the print of its physical product and electronically publish its weekly paper as a digital edition. The publisher noted this decision was made in response to the ongoing pandemic and ensuing economic pressures, while also noting that many print editions are mailed to offices that are currently closed. The paper is currently offering free access to its online content that’s usually behind a paywall.
- Journalists face tremendous public pressure to continue reporting during this time of uncertainty and constant stream of news. The coronavirus outbreak has had a personal impact and taken a personal toll on many journalists, notably those in broadcast.
- Journalist Alan A. Finder died this morning after testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month. Recently retiring after nearly 30 years of service, he spent the majority of his career at The New York Times, where he covered a multitude of beats ranging from the foreign desk, transportation, housing, labor, city government, and others.
- Liz Claman, who anchors The Claman Countdown on Fox Business Network, is now in quarantine at her home in New Jersey after two FBN colleagues tested positive for the coronavirus last week. FBN’s Cheryl Casone is filling in for the next six broadcasts while Claman stays home.
- The White House Correspondence Association announced on Monday that a journalist in the White House press corps is suspected to have contracted COVID-19. The White House has been implementing social distancing measures during the daily briefings on the coronavirus outbreak. Journalists are required to sit one seat apart and have their temperature taken before going in for briefings.
Social Media Attempts to Stop the Spread of Misinformation
- Twitter said it is working with global public health authorities to dole out more of its blue verification checkmarks to experts who can provide credible updates on the coronavirus pandemic. The company said it expects to miss first quarter 2020 financial expectations because of the COVID-19 pandemic, although the company also said the crisis has significantly expanded its average daily user base—with a net gain of 12 million so far in the current period.
- Instagram on Tuesday said it’s removing COVID-19 content and accounts from recommendations, unless posted by a credible health organization.
- Facebook and Snapchat, have also stepped up resources around quality content about the virus, although some policies are still being questioned for allowing misinformation.
Keeping Up with News Reporting
- As online outlets launch newsletters to help keep people informed on the viral outbreak, broadcast outlets continue to dedicate more time to reporting on news related to COVID-19.
- According to a new survey from TV analysis company Magid, 51% are increasing their consumption of news amid the coronavirus outbreak, with 49% checking on the news multiple times a day.
- App downloads for every type of news outlet, digital, radio and television/video are up, according to new data from Apptopia.
- Cable news networks have seen viewership surge more than 50% since the beginning of the year.
- Broadcast newscasts are also seeing ratings bumps.
- Social media interactions on stories from a group of 10 major publishers have increased 56% over the last two weeks, compared to the rest of the year, according to data from NewsWhip.
- Publishers are seeking their traffic totals spike, according to data from Parse.ly. Sites in the Parsely network have seen a 61% jump in page views over the last two weeks compared to the previous 7 weeks.
- Since China expelled reporters from three major U.S. publishers last month, publishers of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post released a statement critical of China’s revocation of Americans’ credentials. The letter from the three publishers emphasized the need for a free flow of information during the coronavirus crisis.
Summer Olympics Makes Headlines
- Many outlets covered the news on the International Olympic Committee’s decision to postpone the Summer Olympics until 2021.
- Financial media focuses on how the decision to postpone the Olympics will have a global impact. The event will have an economic toll on athletes and companies across industries.
- Despite the increase in television viewing during this pandemic, revenue continues to decrease for broadcast outlets. Advertisers continue to hold back on ad purchasing as campaigns get cancelled.
Consumer Media Coverage Opportunities
- Consumer publications remain consistent in their coverage. Content continues to focus on working from home tips, what companies are offering to help consumers cope, and activities to do while social distancing.
- Escapism and human interest pieces continue to focus on feel-good storytelling and “people helping people.” This trend can be seen across broadcast, print and online media of various beats.
- Outlets continue to cover major companies like Trader Joe’s and Starbucks that are trying to support workers during this time by rewarding hard work and giving paid time off that’s usually not covered.
INSIGHTS & INTEL: TEN WAYS COMPANIES CAN SUPPORT THEIR EMPLOYEES AND COMMUNITIES
With the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic taking a toll on families in the U.S. and around the world, the private sector can play a major role in ensuring local communities and their employees are staying safe. We’ve seen many companies begin to lend a hand in more ways than one – like expanding benefits (e.g. paid sick leave) or creating special hardship funds for affected employees. Some, however, are getting involved on a deeper level, by helping those on the front lines of the crisis or by starting new, creative initiatives to help groups particularly affected by the pandemic.
Weber Shandwick developed the following recommendations to help companies explore creative methods of supporting their employees and communities:
- Make donations to the cities where your employees live and work: Just as Salesforce committed $1.5 million to the City of San Francisco’s small business fund, you have the opportunity to support communities where your employees live and work.
- Set up a hardship fund: Create a new fund employees can access should they need funds to cover medical expenses related to COVID-19, similar to how Amazon unveiled the Amazon Relief Fund. Have your C-Suite contribute personal funds to demonstrate goodwill and commitment to employees.
- Help employees get the information they need by reimbursing for at home COVID-19 tests: Consider reimbursing employees for home testing kits offered by companies like Everlywell to ensure they feel safe and can take the proper measures to care for themselves, their families and the community.
- Continue payment for front-line employees who are self-isolating: For hourly workers who have been exposed to the coronavirus and are required to quarantine for 14 days, consider continuing payment for the hours they will have missed. Companies like Taco Bell have already implemented this new policy.
- …or pay your workers for new community-focused jobs: For workers who are impacted by reduced hours, consider paying them do other tasks for those in the community, e.g. grocery shopping for elderly employees, etc. [Note: would need to work with HR to ensure this complies with labor laws]
- Provide extra paid sick leave: Consider providing employees with an extra week of paid sick leave to ease the financial burden of the COVID-19 impact.
- Feed your employees (and those in the community) with products: Follow the restaurant industry’s lead and donate product to employees to help ease the financial burden of feeding their families. Also, consider sending care packages to those employees who have been diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19.
- …or sponsor regular virtual lunches: Support the community and your employees by paying for a weekly lunch. They can order in from their favorite local business and be reimbursed. Or you can buy gift cards from community restaurants to give to their employees as a way to recognize the great work happening during a time of unease and uncertainty.
- Subsidize mental wellness support: In addition to traditional Employee Assistance Programs, consider offering a discounted or fully paid membership to Mental Wellness resources, like Talkspace or other online fitness resources.
- Furnish employees’ home office space: Take a note from Facebook and Shopify and consider giving office employees a stipend to create a new home office space.
- Partner with online learning resource for employees with children: Consider sponsoring or partnering with online learning providers so that employees with kids have access to help with homeschooling while they work.
- Encourage employees to “creatively” donate to one another: Encourage employees to donate recipes, playlists, tips and tricks for at-home fitness, and other camaraderie building ideas to one another via virtual forums.
We are continuing to see a steady pace of cancelled and postponed events scheduled to take place this year. Today, two major annual events scheduled to take place in Chicago were cancelled. We anticipate more events will be officially cancelled or postponed in the coming days/weeks. Top news in event cancellations include:
- Summer Olympics: The Tokyo Summer Olympics are officially postponed until 2021, ending weeks of speculation.
- National Restaurant Association Show: The largest single gathering of restaurant and foodservice professionals, originally scheduled to take place May 16-19 in Chicago, was cancelled.
- American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting: The annual gathering of the global oncology community, scheduled to take place May 29-June 2 in Chicago, was cancelled. Organizers will still convene participants in a virtual format during the same timeframe.
- US Open Golf: The USGA faces a decision on postponement/cancellation for the next major golf championship, as Winged Foot Golf Club closes for the time being.
For more information about how we are helping clients solve in this uncertain time, please contact:
- Micho Spring, Chair, Global Corporate Practice, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Pam Jenkins, President, Global Public Affairs, email@example.com