United We Stand (6ft+ Apart): Best Practices for a Safe Reopening

As of May 20, all fifty states have begun the process of reopening. Your institution, organization, or office might be considering what this means for the upcoming months. While some will opt to continue working, learning, and engaging remotely, others will decide to return to in-person activity in some capacity. For those who choose to reopen common spaces or return to some form of in-person engagement, it is crucial to implement thorough safety measures. 

Our COVID-19 taskforce is dedicated to supporting safe reopenings for our partner organizations, institutions, and corporations. In this guide, we will delve deeply into what the Phase 1 and 2 reopening advice might mean for you, including:

  1. How to prepare for a safe reopening 
  2. Day-to-day steps to maintain a safe work environment
  3. Specific risk mitigation strategies

We also offer suggestions for volunteer opportunities that might be safely offered as organizations start to reopen; if you feel ready to start planning these opportunities, you can skip past the preparation guide to read these ideas. 

We hope that this guide will help you to implement and adhere to crucial safety practices, particularly in contexts in which you might engage with your community and vulnerable populations. 

Note: All of the information contained within this article is based on the CDC’s recommendations and is not intended as business advice. As always, please follow state and local regulations, and remember that reopening plans are not mandatory: your organization decides for itself when and how it feels ready to reopen. 

Preparing to Reopen  

If you are considering reopening, you must consider whether you are equipped to do so safely. From gathering supplies to cleaning common spaces, you will need to ensure that every possible precaution has been taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Use donation drives to gather supplies

In order to effectively prepare, you will need to make sure that you have the materials you need to protect against the spread of COVID-19. This includes sufficient hand sanitizer and soap for everyone in the workspace to use multiple times throughout their days, sanitizing wipes to wipe down all shared spaces both before and after use, and in some cases PPE for all who will be in the space. If you are not sure whether your organization will be able to personally procure sufficient materials, you can organize a donation drive and rally your community to help. If you are a business with the capacity to support your community partners, reach out to them to help fill their gaps! 

Check for potential allergens 

Allergens may mimic several symptoms of COVID-19, which can lead those suffering from allergies to ignore concerning symptoms, or can lead to widespread fear within your environment. Symptoms of allergies such as sneezing or coughing can also lead to the spread of COVID-19, as droplets may spread even from those who do not yet know that they are infected. In order to alleviate the spread of coronavirus, check all buildings and workspaces for potential allergens such as mold or dust. In residential universities, for example, all dormitories must be thoroughly cleaned and inspected in advance of allowing any students to return. 

Set up physical barriers and diversify office time shifts to avoid person-to-person contact 

In situations where you may need face-to-face communication, such as reception desks, seminar classrooms, or check-in tables, set up physical barriers wherever possible. A plastic screen, partnered with masks for those on either side, can limit the potential for spread of coronavirus. Wherever possible, close common areas (such as shared kitchens) to prevent spread from their use. In general, make and implement a clear plan for limiting in-person presence. In the case that some or most folks want to be at the office, continue to provide flexibility to work remotely, and identify diverse time shifts to decrease traffic and office concentration. 

Day-to-Day Realities

In the below infographics, our Best Ever Volunteer, Bev, details what day-to-day life might look like during Phases 1 and 2 of reopening. From sanitizing frequently to offering virtual and remote opportunities, Phase 1 allows you to begin opening to small numbers of people; Phase 2 offers additional safety guidelines for larger gatherings. Again, it is crucial that you follow any local or state regulations as well as proceeding with an abundance of caution. We do not recommend that you allow for gatherings of more than 10 individuals if you can avoid doing so, and we encourage you to take every opportunity to decrease your density of individuals in any space. 

Phase 1

Phase 2

Risk Mitigation

As Bev shows us in the infographics above, preventing the spread of COVID-19 may involve extensive risk mitigation measures. Such measures include the following: 

HIPAA-compliant symptom monitoring

HIPAA protects patients’ privacy and personal information. Symptom monitoring, such as temperature checks, must be compliant with HIPAA while simultaneously preventing unnecessary risks for uncomfortable or inappropriate situations in the office or workspace. The most effective way to ensure that privacy, HIPAA, and personal comfort are not violated is to request that anyone considering coming to a shared space self-monitor symptoms, particularly temperature. You might even consider providing thermometers to anyone who will be coming in on a regular basis. Check with local health officials to determine whether your system for symptom monitoring is HIPAA compliant, and make sure to bear in mind ways to mitigate risk of uncomfortable or inappropriate interactions if you make the decision to monitor temperature in person. 

Contact tracing 

Contact tracing is becoming an increasingly prevalent method for rapidly diagnosing and treating new cases of COVID-19. This method identifies all of the contacts with which a newly infected patient has interacted over the past few weeks. These contacts are then warned that they may be ill, asked to isolate, and, if need be, tested for COVID. We will be posting a more detailed guide to contact tracing, including how your volunteer base might be able to help with this method, in the upcoming weeks. 

Isolation of cases

For cases in which reopening means also opening communal living spaces, you may need to isolate cases should they arise. Universities, for example, may find that residence halls quickly spread COVID-19. If a student or resident is suspected to have or is diagnosed with COVID-19, there must be measures in place to immediately isolate this case, including an available living space that minimizes exposure risk (for example, public restrooms, kitchens, etc.), options for food delivery in the case that they are unable to procure food for themselves, and how or when the individual will be moved to an alternative location. 

Liability waivers

Your liability waivers will need to be updated to reflect the new risks that will be present for those who are entering shared spaces. In your updated waivers, you should make clear what the new risks are, describe any safety precautions that the individual is responsible for (such as providing their own protective equipment, staying home in the case of illness, etc.), and detail the mutual choices that must be made in order to prevent spread in either direction. 

COVID-19 task force 

Especially if you are unable to avoid larger groups (for example, more than ten people), having a dedicated medical response team or COVID-19 task force ready to respond to medical emergencies is key. This might be a group of individuals who each know a specific role to play in the case that it becomes clear that an individual is ill (for example, where cleaning supplies are, how to clean, etc.), or, in the case of an event, it might be made up of medical professionals. In either case, being prepared for an individual case or an outbreak is crucial. 

Safe In-Person Volunteering

Over the past months, we have supported partner organizations as they implemented thoughtful and creative options for their volunteer base to engage with their community while sheltering in place to flatten the curve. Even as the country reopens, many volunteers will continue to prefer virtual options. We hope that our guide to virtual and remote volunteering can help you to plan effective and safe options, and that we can help you to evaluate your organization’s readiness to support virtual and remote opportunities. 

In addition to these virtual options, organizations may cautiously begin offering in-person options in order to best support the populations they work with. With the above plans and procedures in place, you can work within your organization or partner organizations to come up with some ideas for safe, in-person volunteering. We hope the below ideas will help to get you started: 

Creating virtual tours

While you may not yet be ready to reopen with large groups of people, even the most rudimentary reopening will give you the chance to let individual or smaller groups of volunteers create virtual tours. For universities, parks, museums, and science centers, this option can showcase attractions and features that would normally be open to many people at once. This can also be accomplished through asking that visitors and volunteers share their photos; our partners at the Austin Parks Foundation encourage visitors to share pictures through their collaboration with El Arroyo, placing signs with clever safety reminders across their parks and asking visitors to share the images.  

Clean-up crews

Similarly, individual or smaller groups of volunteers can enter spaces to help with important clean-up operations. For example, local schools, parks, and cities/municipalities such as our partners at the city of Austin can organize limited and targeted groups of volunteers to safely remove litter that may have accumulated while volunteers were unable to engage in person. 

Food preparation and delivery 

Food justice is increasingly critical at a time with so much financial instability. For organizations that help to combat food insecurity, such as our food bank partners and campus kitchens from institutions like UGA, the opportunity to reopen may also mean the opportunity to begin operating kitchens and delivery services. With the right safety precautions and options such as curbside pick-up or contactless delivery, the fight against food insecurity can continue with help from the in-person volunteers who make it possible. 

Animal care

For our partners at humane centers and animal shelters, reopening can offer the opportunity to bring volunteers back to interact with the animals who most need their care. Dog walking, cleaning pens/cages, and washing dogs are all activities that can be done in smaller numbers and that make a huge difference to the lives of the animals in these shelters. Of course, continuing to promote foster care as an option for those who are working from home will help just as much — our friends at Austin Pets Alive have seen incredible community support for their foster program! 

Delivering goods 

Our partners at Inspiring Minds had a great idea early into the pandemic: they delivered books and craft materials to the students they normally would be able to tutor and mentor in person. This type of volunteering can continue during reopenings! Volunteers can help organize and deliver packages with important materials to members of their community who can benefit from the help. Whether it’s children’s books and packages with the materials needed for interactive activities, food, or hard-to-find items such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper, there is no doubt that these deliveries will make a world of difference. 

Contingency Plans

Perhaps the most important part of planning to reopen is recognizing that your plans may change. Information is shifting regularly; experts have warned that states’ reopening may lead to new surges, which will alter regulations and guidance. Remember to include contingency plans as you look forward to reopening. If you will be moving individuals into shared residential areas, make plans for how to efficiently and safely move out large groups of people in a short amount of time; if you will be opening in-person engagement options, consider how these can be continued online or remotely. Prepare for the worst, but hope for the best — and take every step you can to make sure the best-case scenario is truly safe. 

Did we miss anything? Let us know by contacting covid@givepulse.com. We want to make sure that we are supporting all of our partners through these challenging and transformative times. We know that our communities are strong, and have seen first-hand how all of our partners have rallied to make necessary changes while still finding ways to better their communities. We are humbled and proud to work with all of you, and look forward to helping in any way we can, now and moving forward. 

New Times Call for New Methods

As experts continue to caution against large group gatherings, it becomes increasingly apparent that common spaces in the office, campus, and community will be drastically altered. In the upcoming months, we will be working to support safe and impactful engagement for our entire community; while this post focuses on our higher ed partners, we believe that the business, city, and nonprofit community will also be able to benefit from the ideas and measures we highlight. 

While governments and health experts continue to develop protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, institutions may opt to reconsider their courses, expectations, and evaluation schematics. Recently, our partners at CSU, the nation’s largest four-year college system, announced their plans to move the majority of their Fall 2020 classes online. Other institutions are considering a variety of paths, from social-distanced seminars and virtual lectures, to going virtual after thanksgiving and adding a summer semester in 2021, to limiting which students are able to return to campus. In all of these cases, there are clear needs for on-campus public health awareness campaigns, testing, contract tracing, and isolation of cases.

Community engagement centers and service-learning courses may find themselves facing additional challenges as they strive to navigate a new form of engagement, potentially without the localized, in-person efforts that have characterized engagement previously. For those who decide that reopening is not a possibility, how does a way of learning so deeply rooted in a local community foster the same education and impact remotely? How, on the other hand, can service-learning courses that opt to continue in person engagement do so safely? 

In collaboration with our partners, we’ll be working closely with nonprofits to identify innovative ways to virtually meet the community’s new and existing needs, particularly for the 89% of respondents to our nonprofit survey who indicated that they are unsure of how to transition their hands-on opportunities. Service-learning courses can act as a vital resource to help support these efforts for their community partners. 

We are at a crossroads. We could throw up our hands and give up on the community for its high risks. We could also travel the other road, where our engagement becomes imperative to the community we serve. Higher education is needed now more than ever to be a beacon of light, not only for the research generated from the labs on campus, but also for the helping hands and heart that our students, faculty, staff and alumni provide to the most vulnerable at this time. 

There will be no return to “normal” or to the way things were. We are better and more innovative than that. We need to roll up our sleeves and dig in to new ways of being. The issues of poverty, health disparities, food insecurity and other inequities that were there before the pandemic have been amplified as a result of the outbreak, and will likely linger for some time to come unless we do something now.

While the circumstances are certainly challenging, there is much to be hopeful about in these trying times. This is an opportunity to consider how community engagement can become more accessible to students, including those who may not have the time or the ability to commit to traditional in-person forms of volunteering. It is an opportunity to increase the ways that your institution works with partners, strengthening partnerships and learning new forms of support and mutual growth. It is an opportunity to double down on the commitment serving your community, and to the populations who have already been most affected by COVID-19. 

These new times call for new methods of engagement. The GivePulse team is working closely with campuses, community organizations, state and local health departments, businesses, chambers of commerce, volunteer centers and many other collaborative partners across the globe to retool, rethink and re-emerge with a fresh focus and energy to tackle the challenges ahead.

In the course of communicating with our amazing campus partners, we have already heard so much to be hopeful about, as service-learning and community engagement centers have mobilized to respond not only to the needs of their vulnerable community members, but also to the public health crisis we currently face. 

Over the next few weeks, we will be working closely with our public health, virtual/remote engagement, and curriculum development task forces to create further resources that we hope will help institutions work through these challenging times. We will create best-practices guides, addressing, among other things: 

  • How to communicate, implement, and evaluate virtual service-learning and engagement
  • Safety measures to consider before allowing students to engage in-person with community partners
  • Important updates to liability waivers as risks associated with engagement change
  • Ways that student volunteers and engagement centers can support aspects of campus planning, logistics, execution, and assessment, including recruiting and training student volunteers as contact tracers 
  • Other opportunities for COVID-19 specific work, such as properly equipped and approved campus labs running COVID-19 tests, that provide an extraordinary learning opportunity for students and faculty mentors

We look forward to highlighting the unique efforts of our partners to help other institutions and communities learn from their successes and failures. As always, let us know how we can collaborate with you. 

Virtual Conferences: Highlevel takeaways on #ACCP2020

Even as states begin to reopen, group gatherings will continue to be limited as a crucial safety precaution. But this does not mean that important events need to be postponed or cancelled — conferences, for example, can be just as meaningful and productive as ever!

Virtual conferences offer the chance to consider important questions and work together to come up with answers, without taking any unnecessary risks with people’s health. This is a screenshot of Hildy Gottlieb, co-founder of Creating the Future, encouraging us to broaden our way of thinking to change the world.

GivePulse teammates attended the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP) conference on April 30 and May 1 (the second half of the conference will happen in June with a virtual networking opportunity for attendees during mid Month), where, in addition to engaging in important conversations regarding corporate social responsibility in these unprecedented circumstances, we also had the chance to think through the Dos and Don’ts of virtual conferences. As with virtual volunteering, it is important to be guided by best practices to make sure that everyone stays connected to and invested in these conversations. 

Below are our main takeaways for those hoping to set up a virtual conference: 

Find creative ways to make sure the conference engages participants

Staring at a screen and listening to speakers may offer less stimulus than most conferences entail. Because of this, it’s important to be creative! Use polls and break-out rooms to encourage participation, and consider shortening speaking times to allow for more breaks. Remind keynote speakers that the format difference may lead to changes in their presentation. Encourage them to avoid lengthy speaking segments in favor of interactive elements. 

Polls encourage audience participation and start important conversations. This screenshot shows the important benefits of encouraging employees to lead through nonprofit board service. 

Conversations, follow up chitchats, downtime, etc. are crucial

One of the most important parts of conferences is the opportunity to chat with others in your area of expertise or interest. This is an opportunity to learn, network, and grow, and needs to be maintained in the virtual environment. Break-out rooms, as suggested above, are a great way to organically recreate this environment; set up some break-out sessions specifically targeted at meeting, greeting or even downtime (either before, between or after panels, just like they exist in “normal” conferences). Create a virtual hub as well, where participants, vendors, and sponsors can display, engage, and promote their organizations and can reach out to like-minded groups. Ideally, offering an opportunity to explore and be engaged with the conference without the need to participate in a panel is important!

Virtual conferences can increase accessibility: 

The ACCP scheduled portions of the conference over different dates across six weeks, and recorded the content sessions for those unable to make these times. They also offered built-in breaks between sessions. All of these reveal the benefit of virtual conferencing: extreme flexibility. Highlight this value, and use it as an opportunity to increase those who engage with the conference. 

By offering recorded conferences, you allow for more members and interested parties to access your conference. This can both increase membership and encourage broader growth. The screenshot shows Stacy Cline from GoDaddy sharing an innovative program model that scales to make long term outcomes and impact.  

Beyond these takeaways, the conference reaffirmed the importance of collaborative and compassionate business models in this time. Compassionate businesses are the ones that survive and thrive. We are grateful to partner with so many compassionate businesses; learn more in our J.B. Hunt blog spotlight and a recent webinar on the impact of what businesses are doing in Austin, Texas through Austin Gives