The coronavirus has put 2020 on track to have one of the worst non-war starts in modern history. As is often the case with epidemics, people are waiting for government to stem the public health panic with vaccinations, new policies and reassuring leadership. However, businesses are showing that they are able to do more than make money – they are a critical part of civil society.
If there is any chance of stemming the health and economic concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the solution won’t just come from the government. It will come from every part of society working together, especially in an era when Americans have low trust in key institutions.
Businesses have stepped in to fill the void from the beginning. Costco personalized the company’s virus counterattack by having its Chief Financial Officer praise staff on an investor call for their tireless effort to keep supplies in stock and the store sanitized. Starbucks held its annual shareholders meeting virtually on March 18. Instacart is hiring 300,000 new employees, while U-Haul gave college students a free month of storage and Uber Eats gave 300,000 free meals to health care workers.
As the crisis has worsened, companies have increased their efforts to help mitigate the crisis. Fanatics is turning what would have been Major League Baseball gear into medical masks and gowns. Retail giants Walmart, Target, CVS and Walgreens are loaning space for public testing. ServiceNow has donated several workflow apps, has created a powerful health care partnership with Washington State that is being replicated across the country and has donated $100,000 to help medical professionals get needed supplies.
Businesses aren’t alone. People are creatively coming through for family and friends. Churches have now closed public services and are turning to technology to reach congregations, and Catholic confessions are being done drive-thru style to keep people safe during the pandemic.
These examples of businesses engaging in civil society aren’t just helping to stop the coronavirus. They are also showing how we can still function even as politicians falter and the human condition endures. We can go grocery shopping, travel to see loved ones, gather to worship and engage in our normal activities. They are also helping to prevent the clogging of medical resources, which has become a separate public health concern as resources could be unavailable for victims of flu and other serious illnesses.
Most importantly, ServiceNow, CVS, U-Haul and the rest are combating the worst part of any epidemic: uncertainty. They are giving society space to absorb the massive amount of information that is still being uncovered. How deadly is the virus? How widespread will it become across America and the world?
The coronavirus has exposed significant fissures of civil trust which have been building for years. Reassuring the public won’t happen overnight, but by pro-actively keeping the coronoavirus from spreading, keeping people safely employed and ensuring that as much of society can continue to be normalized as possible, businesses are showing that they can be trusted to put people ahead of money. In a time of crisis, this might be the calm wave that we need and a reminder that we the people are always part of society’s solutions.
James Davis is President of Touchdown Strategies, a communications and marketing firm that works at the intersection of public policy and culture. Dustin Siggins is CEO of Proven Media Solutions and a former political journalist.