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ASU releases first comprehensive survey on how companies are protecting their employees from COVID-19

November 19, 2020

1,125 companies in 29 countries reveal stark challenges in navigating the pandemic

A new global business survey conducted by Arizona State University's College of Health Solutions and the World Economic Forum (WEF), with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, finds that less than 20% of employers report testing their workers for COVID-19, and 35% have permanently reduced their workforce.

The survey, which was completed by 1,125 employers from 29 countries with the majority over a period of six weeks from September to October, found that for companies with employees on-site at the workplace, many are taking some steps to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of these companies report they require masks for their employees, and nearly 80% make masks and hand sanitizer available.

When ASU and WEF announced this survey in mid-July, global cases numbered 13.2 million and deaths stood at 575,000. Since then, cases have more than quadrupled to 53.7 million and are rising quickly. Deaths have jumped past the 1.3 million mark. Business leaders face increasingly complex challenges and difficult decisions on how to keep employees and customers safe while remaining open for business. 

“How to move the economy forward while keeping people safe is on the mind of every business leader as they continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mara Aspinall, professor of practice at the College of Health Solutions. “The survey findings give us a clearer picture of the many difficult decisions employers face in trying to reduce the spread of the disease — and why more must be done to expand access to rapid-result testing.” 

Results from the first phase of the "COVID-19 Workplace Commons — Keeping Workers Well" survey are now available in a comprehensive report, "Facing Uncertainty: The Challenges of COVID-19 in the Workplace." The report provides findings from employers across the globe about their approach to testing, contact tracing, facility safety, pandemic response, financial impact and pandemic preparedness. 

“We have created a community for leaders to share their challenges and current practices,” said Genya Dana, head of health care transformation at the World Economic Forum. “We believe these resources will help leaders everywhere make informed decisions as the pandemic continues to evolve.”

One of the major challenges of COVID-19? At least 40% of people infected with the virus do not show symptoms and are potential silent spreaders. Without a reason to believe they are infected, asymptomatic patients continue their day-to-day activities around the community and in the workplace and may pass the virus to others who could become critically ill. Still, few employers are testing their employees regularly when they come to work because they find the tests too costly (28%), too complicated to implement (22%), or they are concerned about the accuracy of the tests (18%). 

Globally, the majority (65%) of businesses surveyed were small businesses with 25 or fewer employees, with nearly 80% having fewer than 100 employees. With the U.S. accounting for more than one-fifth of the world’s cases and more than one-sixth of total deaths from the virus, the fact that 62.5% of the survey respondents were U.S. businesses paints a critical picture of the landscape of challenges impacting businesses in the country. 

“As businesses continue reopening and employees return to the workplace, we are again caught in an intense virus upswing with COVID-19 cases hitting record numbers,” said Dr. Jonathan D. Quick, managing director for pandemic response, preparedness, and prevention, health initiative, with the Rockefeller Foundation. “We must come together and do everything in our power to keep the economy open and keep people safe.”

Additional survey findings include:

  • Only 36% of companies had disaster or emergency response plans in place pre-COVID-19, and of those only 39% had plans specifically for epidemics or pandemics; 47% of those said their plan was useful for the pandemic.

  • 26% of respondents report increased monthly operating costs of 26% or more (excluding testing expenses).

  • Notably, the data revealed that there were few significant differences between U.S. and non-U.S. companies except in contact tracing, where U.S. companies are doing much less compared with other regions (37% for U.S. vs. 54% for non-U.S.).

  • 43% of all companies are performing some form of contact tracing, with 58% of them making it mandatory and 17% requiring workers to sign liability waivers.

“By sharing the findings of our survey, we are ensuring broad access to information and truly democratizing knowledge during the pandemic,” said Nate Wade, project co-lead and senior director of strategic initiatives at ASU’s College of Health Solutions.   

An interactive data dashboard on the COVID-19 Workplace Commons provides access to the survey data.

In addition to the COVID-19 Workplace Commons, ASU offers the following resources:  

  • Employer case studies: Spotlights on approaches to workplace safety and business continuity from companies across the world.   

  •  A comprehensive, interactive database of authorized COVID-19 tests worldwide, updated regularly and searchable by test type, technology, regulatory status and many other parameters.

  • Taking Back Control During COVID-19 webinar series: Key opinion leaders discuss best practices in innovation, strategy and use of testing and diagnostics in uncertain times.

  • Testing Technology Trends (T3 Blog): Evidence-based insights on COVID-19-related technologies for navigating the challenges and improving decision-making.    

ASU and WEF will field two more phases of its COVID-19 Workplace Commons — Keeping Workers Well survey in 2021. Employers of all types, sizes and geographic locations are invited to get involved and sign up to participate in the next survey at Findings will be updated and released on the website.

Photo by iStock

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Justice for the land, justice for the people

November 19, 2020

ASU’s Project Humanities hosts Native panel to explore colonialism and environmental racism's effect on Indigenous communities

Many historians have stated that this country was founded on the exploitation of Indigenous peoples and the Earth.

Their land has been colonized for centuries. Resources such as water, minerals and wildlife were once honored and abundant, but now are polluted and scarce.

This history is why Native Americans have been consistent allies to environmental movements.

Arizona State University’s Project Humanities hosted a Nov. 17 livestream event titled “Environmental Justice: Indigenous Communities” to explore the intersection of justice for the Earth, justice for Indigenous peoples and how to mend the wounds of the past.

“If nothing else, the summer 2020 crisis in racial justice has forced conversation about systemic racism to name ‘white supremacy’ as the proverbial unnamed monster in the room,” said Neal A. Lester, professor of English and director of Project Humanities. “That many are looking at racial (in)justice in its myriad manifestations and permutations is exactly why this conversation about Indigenous communities and lands is imperative and beneficial. That we have such a panel of experts doing this work is truly an honor. Our desire is that coming together for this conversation will move us all to some action — great or small — to make us better and to make us think differently about our relationship with each other and with the stolen land upon which this very USA created itself.”

The event panel featured Alycia de Mesa, a senior sustainability scholar for ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation; Melissa K. Nelson, professor of Indigenous sustainability in ASU’s School of Sustainability; Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání, a grassroots organization focused on preserving and protecting the environment; Vanessa Nosie, employed with the San Carlos Apache Tribe Historic Preservation and Archeology Department as the NAGPRA project director and archeology aide; and her daughter, Naelyn Pike, an internationally renowned Indigenous rights and environmental leader and activist. Manuel Pino, a professor of sociology and coordinator of American Indian studies at Scottsdale Community College, served as the evening’s facilitator.  

Together, the panel examined the roots of environmental racism, colonialism, corporate mining and its impacts to Native lands, water diversion to fill the need of larger cities, climate change, demonstrating empathy for Native American tribes and how to become an ally to Indigenous peoples.

Screenshot of a virtual panel on Native environmental justice

Panelists at Project Humanities' Nov. 17 discussion on environmentalism and Indigenous communities include (top row, from left) sustainability instructor and PhD student Alycia de Mesa; San Carlos Apache preservationist Vanessa Nosie and her daughter, activist Naelyn Pike; Melissa Nelson, an ASU professor of Indigenous sustainability; (bottom row, from left) panel facilitator and Scottsdale Community College Professor Manuel Pino; and Navajo environmentalist Nicole Horseherder.

The group spent the first half of the program defining and tracing the roots of environmental racism. Pino, who hails from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, said he grew up next to a uranium mine that contaminated the environment and claimed the lives of a handful of his relatives. Pino added that those same mines were abandoned decades ago and were never reclaimed or cleaned up.

“All of these companies have abandoned and left us with our contaminated aboriginal homelands,” Pino said. “It not only had impacts to the environment, but to human health.”

Nelson said the roots of environmental racism trace back more than 500 years to explorer Christopher Columbus. She cited American Indian thinker Jack D. Forbes’ book "Columbus and the Other Cannibals" as a vital text.

“He (Forbes) talked about how when Columbus first came here, he brought this spirit of conquest and this spirit of colonialism. And, of course, it was fueled by the Vatican and the pope’s Doctrine of Discovery,” said Nelson, an Indigenous writer, editor and scholar-activist. “That basically said that these Indigenous lands and the millions of people who are here are pretty much invisible because they’re not Christian and weren’t tending to the land properly … so it goes way back and it has many faces.”

Horseherder, a Diné from Black Mesa in northeastern Arizona, said years of coal mining decimated their land and polluted their water.

“In all of the years that I had been growing up there, there were no more springs. And all of Black Mesa, we don’t have running rivers and springs, and we had springs all over the plateau,” Horseherder said. “The springs near my home was also gone. And that’s where my search began.”

Horseherder added that the Navajo Generating Station coal-fired power plant near the Arizona-Utah border shut down a year ago and was a major victory, but the work continues.

“One of the things we have to make sure of now is reclamation will occur under the federal government,” Horseherder said. “We as Indigenous people have to stay vigilant and (make sure it) happens to the standard that we need it to happen so that people can go back and live on those lands the way they used to.”

Nosie said environmental racism is much more than damage to Native land; it equates to cultural destruction and genocide.

“Our environment is a key source to our identity and who we are as Indigenous people,” said Nosie, who is a community organizer for her tribe. “Our cultural resources come from the Earth in order to conduct a lot of our resources. So when you talk about environmental racism, you’re talking about cultural destruction and genocide on our people.”

De Mesa, a fourth-generation Arizonan whose heritage is a mix of Mexican, Western Apache, Indigenous Mexican of Durango, Japanese and British/German, said it’s every non-Native’s duty to inform themselves about the history of these lands and become an ally. 

“We need to understand what is our environment, especially if you’re someone living in a big city,” de Mesa said. “Where does our water come from? Where does our energy come from? What are the backs that are being broken for you to enjoy Wi-Fi, electricity or anything else? We have to understand this historically, and we have to understand what’s happening in the present … investigate, ask questions, read. Obviously, empathy is a huge part of this.”

Pike said taking action by putting pressure on political leaders is not only effective, but every citizen’s right.

“Make your voice be heard because we are the people, we elect them to represent us so your voice needs to be heard,” said Pike, who co-leads (with her grandfather Wendsler Nosie Sr. and mother Vanessa Nosie) the nonprofit Apache Stronghold, which is fighting to stop a mining project that they say would desecrate Oak Flat, an Apache sacred site near the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation. “Ask the question, ‘Who am I? Where do I come from?’ You’ll find a connection not just to yourself and your people, but it’ll also help you connect to what we’re trying to do.”

Pino said getting corporations and politicians to stop desecrating Native land has been a lifelong battle for him and others. It's something Pino said he may not see come to fruition during his lifetime, but he's not stopping no matter what.

“I started as a young man. Now I’m an old man,” Pino said. “And we’re still fighting.”

Project Humanities' suggested action items for the public

Top image courtesy of Project Humanities

Reporter , ASU News