Turning the Corner Toward Community Health: Vaccine Distribution Initiatives

Last week, in the midst of a pandemic, Texas faced an unprecedented winter storm. Millions were left without power or water; for those who had water, it was often unsanitary. Our own team sought solutions to keep us safe and warm, which we compiled here. We saw local organizations leverage GivePulse to fundraise hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed vulnerable members of their community, and collaborated with the City to help with warming centers and shelters. We continue to work with churches and local authorities to ensure everyone has access to showers, safe drinking water, and laundry services. If we can help with any immediate needs, please let us know at warm@givepulse.com. 

As we turn the corner, with warmer weather signaling safety to those in our home state, we know that COVID-19 remains a challenge to be overcome.  In these challenging times, we have continued to be inspired by the speed and efficacy with which the scientific community stepped up to develop vaccines that will allow our communities to begin moving toward normalcy. As vaccine rollout progresses across the country, our team at GivePulse have been collaborating with health authorities and institutions to coordinate volunteers and facilitate the safe, secure, and accessible distribution of vaccines. These efforts are central to our mission of empowering social good. 

This post highlights a few of the institutions and partners we’re working with to facilitate vaccine distribution, from our home City of Austin to organizations and institutions across the country. 

If you have any questions about whether GivePulse can support your vaccination efforts, please contact us at covid@givepulse.com. 

Austin: Vaccine Distribution in Our Home City

In the aftermath of an unprecedented winter storm, the City of Austin is continuing to recruit qualified individuals to serve as patient representatives and administer vaccines for their COVID-19 response. The initiative, dubbed “United Against COVID” by Austin Public Health (APH), will be imperative to the city’s operations as they find, train, and manage the thousands of volunteers required to build immunity against COVID-19.

“We never imagined we’d be faced with a once-in-a-generation winter storm during a global pandemic, but we’re glad we can play a part to keep our hometown and other communities safe, whether that’s by supporting warming shelters, showering facilities, water disbursement sites or facilitating vaccine distribution.” 

The United Against COVID initiative will also center on the recruitment of volunteers to their appropriate Points of Dispensing. Points of Dispensing (PODs) serve as community locations for the distribution of medical countermeasures such as vaccines, antibiotics, and more. The City of Austin will create a virtual hub for local PODs from which they can manage different locations at the same time, displaying vacancies for volunteers in locations near them. From this hub, APH will also coordinate communication and reporting to ensure that health administrators can seamlessly control, audit and access data to distribute the vaccine throughout the community. 

Once they have found the appropriate POD for their location, volunteers can submit their availability and qualifications, along with any other information required by APH to ensure safe and effective vaccine distribution. APH will review these applications to screen potential volunteers and offer qualified applicants access to volunteer opportunities. With this designated group pre-selected, administrators for the PODs can easily message out any immediate needs via email, SMS, or SNS. This ensures that, should more volunteers be required for any situation, administrators have a list of available and qualified individuals at their fingertips. 

Working With Partners Across the Nation

GivePulse is proud to be working alongside our hometown’s leadership for United Against COVID.  We are taking our learnings in Austin, TX to activate other cities, states, institutions, organizations and public health authorities to get folks vaccinated.

For organizations, institutions, cities and municipalities who would like to collaborate with us, let us know how we can launch vaccination appointments, symptom checking, patient statuses, volunteer signups, community fundraising and more. Email covid@givepulse.com for more information or to set up your public health portal. 

Join us on March 31 at 2pm CT for our Vaccinations and Public Health webinar. Register here

Stay Safe Texas: Resources and Guidelines for Winter Storms and Power Outages

The past days have been devastating for many communities in our home state of Texas, leading to the declaration of a state of emergency. As of Thursday morning, hundreds of thousands in Texas remained without power in the aftermath of an unprecedented winter storm. Our own team has been significantly impacted by power outages, water shortages and contamination, and below freezing temperatures. Right now some members of our team are staying at the office, where we are lucky enough to have consistent power; others are bunkering with their friends and neighbors. In tandem, we’re working with the City of Austin, in collaboration with Austin Disaster Relief Network, to provide support for the shelters and warming centers available. 

It’s been tough tackling a pandemic; it’s unprecedented to lose power and water at the same time on this scale. In these times, we want the community to know we are here to support you in any way we can, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. As we pick up our vaccination efforts, and we see the temperature showing signs of warming, we know we will come out of this stronger with you. 

In this post, we reflect on some actions we’ve taken personally and at the office that we believe will be important for those also affected by these conditions now and in the future, and how you can access or share resources from anywhere in the country. 

Stay Safe and Warm 

Warmth and safety are the number one priority at this time. Here are some important tips:

  • Wear moisture-wicking material — avoid cotton, which absorbs moisture
  • Wear multiple loose layers to generate warm air pockets 
  • Block doors and windows with towels to decrease drafts 
  • Move into one room and bring everything you need into that room. Seal the room tightly; this will keep any warmth generated by body heat and movement locked into this room 
  • Cars, grills, fuel burning lanterns and generators should not be used in or near the home to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • During the day, uncover windows to allow sunlight in. When the sun has passed the window, block off with towels or heavy blankets to insulate 
  • Consume hot foods and drinks 
  • Layer blankets and bedding 
  • Exercise gently, but not to the point where you sweat 
  • Run your car (away from the garage) for a minute or so each day, and charge your phone from there
  • If your city is on a boil water notice (for example, Austin, our home city), boil any water that comes out of your taps before using
  • Conserve water usage and follow your city’s instructions to avoid pipe bursts

If you do have power, turn off unnecessary appliances to conserve energy and avoid using large appliances. 

Share and Request Resources

Water shortages, difficulties accessing food, and lack of power have led to significant needs for resources. A good portion of our team right now do not have water and are conserving as much as they can. Those with water also are under boil notice! We urge you to connect with neighbors who might have extra sanitary water and resources. We also recommend looking at crowdfunded resource lists, such as the ones here and here, as well as threads that are staying up-to-date with resources. 

As we mentioned above, we are working with the City of Austin to coordinate their response to the community’s needs for the homeless and those without power. To see how you can volunteer and assist, contact us here; to access resources and centers available, visit here

If you have extra supplies, you can donate to mutual aid funds, food banks, and similar organizations. We’ve compiled a list at the bottom of this post. For any organizations hoping to set up a donation drive where you can see needs requests and gather resources in Austin, go here. Other cities, please reach out to us here and we are happy to help. 

Our friends at Good Work Austin’s Community Kitchen also have a donation page here – donations will expand their capacity to produce meals. In the past 6 months, GWA has produced over 300k meals and procured 5 contracts.

Maintaining COVID Safety 

This winter storm has been magnified in some regards due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19. We urge you to maintain COVID safety to whatever extent possible, even if you are sharing homes with friends and family to share resources and warmth. Maintain a supply of potable water in containers so you can wash your hands. Wear masks when around those outside of your bubble (this can also help keep your face warmer). If you are leaving your home to gather supplies, maintain physical distancing measures. 

Our team is in this weather with you, and is dedicated to supporting our home community in any way we can. Reach out if you have any questions or need any assistance in setting up pages for donations and resources. Stay warm, and stay safe. 

Additional Organizations to Donate to: 

Genentech: Investing in Local Mentoring Change, From a Distance

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

More than 40 years ago, Genentech founded the biotechnology industry with the invention of genetic engineering. Today, they remain a leader in the field, pursuing groundbreaking science to tackle some of the world’s most serious medical conditions. Equally as important is Genentech’s recognition that science must go hand-in-hand with the greater good, whether that is in the scientific community, patient care, or corporate giving. 

While they have won awards for everything from their cutting-edge science to their workplace culture, Genentech’s dedication to making a positive impact in their community remains one of their most defining qualities. Genentech has been on People’s 50 Companies that Care list since 2017, its inaugural year, and has been one of the Top Bay Area Corporate Philanthropists for fifteen years running. 

Genentech’s emphasis on community good is particularly evident in their K-12 programs in partnership with the South San Francisco Unified School District. Since 2010, the Gene Academy mentorship program has brought Genentech’s innovative scientific approach to local elementary schools. In 2015, they expanded this program to Futurelab, which offers mentorship for middle and high school students as well. These mentoring programs are widely recognized for paving the way in community engagement, winning the prestigious STEM Mentoring and Making award for Excellence in Public-Private Partnership in 2016 as well as recognition for Impactful Philanthropy from the National Mentoring Partnership in 2019.

Futurelab is an intrinsic part of Genentech’s company culture. Because of Genentech’s investment in their community, 89% of Futurelab volunteers report feeling more connected to the company and to each other through their participation in these programs, and 66% of Genentech employees say that Futurelab contributes to their retention. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Genentech began to scale the impact made by Futurelab through their partnership with GivePulse to streamline the scheduling, communication and tracking of its various programs. 

In this post, we will share how Futurelab has been able to continue strengthening their mentoring programs as they transition from in-person to virtual in the wake of COVID-19. We will first outline each of the three mentoring programs, sharing both how they looked in the past and how they will look in their new virtual format. We will then reflect on how these transitions relied upon Genentech’s close ties with their community. Finally, we will share Genentech’s plans to continue innovating and scaling with GivePulse, offering a new, hopeful lens through which to understand the transitions necessitated by the COVID-19 public health crisis. 

This image, taken before COVID-19, shows Futurelab mentors helping students with hands-on activities that excite them about science. Now, they will be doing so virtually.

Futurelab: Excite, Engage, and Equip — Virtually

Futurelab is comprised of three distinct K-12 STEM mentoring programs, each with its own unique goal. Gene Academy excites elementary students about science. The Helix Cup engages middle school students through a hands-on competition. Science Garage equips high school students for future careers, in and beyond biotechnology. Cherilyn Cabral, Senior Manager of Corporate & Employee Giving, says, “What we’re aiming for is that the kids who graduate from our program are science literate and know the importance of science… [and] hopefully some of them will become scientists too.”

This fall, Futurelab has had to change their programs in a way they never anticipated. Their in-person, hands-on programs are transitioning to entirely virtual opportunities in response to COVID-19. However, their goals to excite, engage, and equip students remain the central facets of each program. “The way we are approaching this is to keep the goal of each program intact,” Cabral says. “The delivery is what changes.” Volunteers will continue to schedule and sign up for opportunities through Genentech’s partnership with GivePulse — only now, the experience will be remote and virtual. 

This transition will not alter the emphasis on long-term and hyper-local impact. Cabral says, “South San Francisco is rich in underrepresented groups we hope will one day work at a place like Genentech.” In order to achieve this goal in the changed landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, Futurelab has had to be adaptive and responsive, without losing sight of the most important elements of the programs.  

“The kids who graduate from our program are science literate and know the importance of science.” 

Gene Academy: Excite

To that end, each of the programs has responded differently to the pandemic. Gene Academy, an after-school mentoring program for third through fifth graders, seeks to excite students about science. Previously, students came to Genentech once a week to participate in activities that use their natural curiosity to get them excited about science. 

“We have kept intact the consistency and continuity of interaction.” 

Now, Gene Academy will support this same natural curiosity through virtual mentoring. Students will be paired with volunteers; these pairs will then read a high-quality science article and send digital letters back and forth responding to the article. This digital pen-pal program will allow for thoughtful discussion, natural curiosity, and individualized connection. “We have kept intact the consistency and continuity of interaction,” says Cabral. 

To foster excitement among the students, the science articles are divided into units that culminate in a related project. Through this consistent interaction and tiered, engaging content, Gene Academy will continue to build on students’ natural curiosity to excite them about science. 

Helix Cup: Engage

Helix Cup offers a chance to engage this excitement through a competition to counteract the falloff in science interest in eighth grade. This same competition will take place this year — only now, teams will work together virtually. “They will be building something as a team, so they need to make sure they are communicating with each other.” says Cabral. “That’s another challenge for the students, who are currently isolated at home.” 

Luckily, they won’t be in this alone; the students will have help from Genentech volunteers, who will offer design consultations and provide data analysis guidance to decide on the best materials and model for the projects. There will also be a new element to the Helix Cup: oral presentations. Cabral is excited about this addition to the evaluation process. “In science, you always have to communicate,” she says. “Why did you make that mistake? Why did you choose that material? What did you learn from this? We do that at Genentech, and it’s important to get that started early.”  

The Helix Cup engages students to tap into scientific creativity. Previously, the Helix Cup featured in-person competition; now, teams will build together from a distance. 

“They will be building something together as a team, so they need to make sure they are communicating. That’s an additional challenge.” 

Science Garage: Equip 

Science Garage equips students with the tools they’ll need in college, no matter what degree path they take. In this four-year program, students previously got access to state-of-the-art equipment at the Science Garage biotech lab and classroom and learned lab techniques from pipetting, media prep, and chromatography to other skills like data analysis useful in and beyond Genentech. 

Realizing that Science Garage could not possibly include all of its usual features, Futurelab sought to emphasize the most impactful elements and put their energy into creating virtual versions of these.

This led to the creation of two main events: a biotech field trip and a poster session. The poster session involves input from Genentech volunteers during the poster creation and research, student presentations to practice their scientific communication skills, and feedback from volunteers on the presentation. During the virtual biotech field trip, students will hear from Genentech employees about their career journeys across the different functions they work on — research, development, manufacturing, and commercialization. 

In addition to learning about these four stages that lead from the creation of the medicine to its delivery to patients, students will have opportunities for career conversations online via the GivePulse Zoom Integration, where they can learn about career journeys and gain a stronger understanding of what an employee does. 

Responding to community needs 

Over the course of transitioning to virtual programs, Futurelab needed to consider several elements. The first, and most critical, was how to respond to the changing needs and challenges within their own community. “We can move fast,” Cabral says, “but there are bigger challenges at the [South San Francisco Unified School District] than what we are trying to do… At the end of the day, the school district and Genentech agree — the students need us now more than ever.”

“We rely on the support of our teachers. We cannot move forward with these programs on our own.” 

The Futurelab programs are not just about academics — they are also about social and emotional factors. During these times, this aspect has become even more critical. In a period of significant disconnection and isolation for these students, “another adult that really cares about you is important,” particularly when some students may not have parents at home who have the time or capacity to check in on schoolwork. “Focus on the connection,” says Cabral. “They don’t have to learn all of these science concepts by the end of the program — it’s making sure the students feel like they’re cared for, and they’re connected to someone else.”  

Security, too, has become of the utmost importance. “We have to protect the children,” Cabral says. All mentoring interactions will be monitored by a teacher; for the younger students, there will be no video interactions, and the digital pen-pal letters will be moderated by a Futurelab team. Maintaining compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is critical, as is ensuring that students are safe in these online interactions.  

“The way we are approaching this is to keep the goal of each program intact. The delivery is what changes.” 

Meeting the needs of the students is critical; equally important is meeting the needs of the teachers. “We rely on the partnership with our teachers,” says Cabral. “We could never move forward with these programs on our own.” With teachers potentially overwhelmed by changing expectations for distanced or hybrid learning, recognizing the elements that can remain the same is important. For example, rather than creating a new competition for the Helix Cup, Futurelab will be using the same egg drop challenge that teachers are familiar with from previous competitions. Maintaining familiarity where possible, while adapting where necessary, helps all stakeholders to be involved in the implementation and success of the programs. 

Making an impact through innovation

Genentech, as a biotech company, sees challenges and uncertainty as the jumping-off points for learning and growth. In line with this way of thinking, Futurelab recognizes that the challenges of these times encourage innovation and growth. “I think we are able to really focus on more impactful events and do them more efficiently,” says Cabral. 

Futurelab volunteers are learning crucial skills for engaging audiences virtually — skills that can carry over beyond mentorship. The volunteers have to be “very dynamic” in their online interactions, Cabral says; “You have to double your engagement factor when you’re doing it online. That’s a skill you can apply to work — how to interact virtually.” Volunteers understand the relevance of their work in Futurelab — 87% of volunteers reported feeling that their skills are strengthened through Futurelab. 

To teach these new skills for a virtual environment, Futurelab has had to alter its trainings. Rather than the one-time training offered in previous years, Futurelab will now feature multiple bite-sized trainings, with tips and tricks throughout the year. 

Training volunteers effectively for this new reality is of the utmost importance to the students: Cabral notes that during the virtual sessions, “You can’t step out; you’re in it. You have that one and a half hours to engage that student. If you don’t engage that student, you’ve lost that opportunity.” 

“The students need us now more than ever.”  

Because of this, Futurelab volunteers will need to make sure they can schedule and commit to consistent engagement. For example, all Gene Academy volunteers will need to write their digital pen-pal response letters every week. “If there’s no letter uploaded, it’s very hard to explain why your mentor didn’t write you a letter,” Cabral says. With the GivePulse Google Calendar Integration, volunteer schedules are synchronized with their office/work calendar to simplify management and coordination efforts.  

Looking ahead: Opportunities for scaling 

With the help of their community and platform partners, as well as the innovations and learnings from this new period of volunteer engagement, Futurelab is looking ahead at the possibility of scaling to include more school districts in their virtual efforts. There are several different ways this scaling could look in the near future. One is expanding beyond the South San Francisco Unified School District to offer an online version to students across California. Another is scaling the virtual opportunities to other Genentech sites across the United States. 

“These could very well be our next generation of scientists and innovators.”  

All of these programs, whether in-person or virtual, aim to change some staggering statistics: only 6% of United States high school students pursue a STEM degree in college. Additionally, underrepresented minorities make up 27% of the country’s population, but 11% of the STEM workforce. One-third of students lose interest in STEM by fourth grade. By eighth grade, that number jumps to fifty percent. Genentech hopes their efforts will help increase the diversity of the STEM workforce, particularly given that 90% of the students in the South San Francisco Unified School District are people of color. 

Genentech’s work is clearly of the utmost importance. And with all that they’re learning from the challenges of COVID-19, they may be able to expand their programs throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. For Futurelab, the story of their COVID-19 response is one of hope — hope that will strengthen communities and lay the foundation for the future. As Cabral says, “These could very well be our next generation of scientists and innovators.”

COVID-19 Testing: Meeting the Challenges to Safely Reopen

Recently on the blog, we outlined the importance of contact tracing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and shared how our partners can get involved. Following on this, we now examine the importance of testing to alleviate the spread of COVID-19 as our communities continue to carefully reopen. 

Learning from institutions of higher ed and their rigorous testing schedules, we share how you can apply their testing strategies to your own institution, department, organization, or office environment. We hope that this will help you create a plan to keep volunteers, employees, students, and clients safe.

This infographic outlines the crucial steps to take upon possible exposure to COVID-19. To download, please visit our community resources page

Why is testing important?

Testing is a key element of any plan to safely reopen while minimizing the risk of COVID-19 spread, along with elements such as screening, contact tracing, and isolation of cases. Once screening or contact tracing has identified someone as being at risk for COVID-19, testing can determine next steps and expand contact tracing reliability.

Our screening survey template can help determine when and if to recommend testing; for more information, see our dedicated support article

Results gathered from testing direct treatment for individual confirmed cases as well as follow-up contact tracing and isolation efforts. Contact tracing can be used to inform anyone who may have been exposed so they can also get tested, stay at home, and monitor for symptoms to prevent further spread of COVID-19. 

On a larger scale, testing results serve as an overall measure for how effective current restrictions are in a community, and may indicate the need for additional strategies. Furthermore, obtaining an adequate volume of testing is essential because it allows researchers to more accurately determine virus spread, which helps them create models of transmission that guide how we manage the disease.

Because of this, it is important to encourage volunteers, students, and staff to get tested. In addition, ask that they pledge to follow public health protocols to minimize the spread and decrease the need for testing. 

For more information about crucial public safety measures that organizations, businesses, and institutions should take in these times, download our guide to Community Safety During the COVID-19 Public Health Crisis

Testing and the Reopening Strategy

Organizations, programs, and centers supporting community engagement must be prepared for the possibility that volunteers and community members they work with will show symptoms, and must have a clear plan in place for next steps. Because of this, testing will be a crucial part of reopening for community engagement. In this post, we will help you determine when to recommend testing and what this testing entails. 

This image shows a screening flowchart that can help an individual decide whether or not to get tested. Always consult with your primary care provider if you believe that you have been exposed to COVID-19. To download, visit our community resources page.

Your organization’s testing strategy should be coordinated with local health departments. While you may want to encourage testing for all those who will be engaging in-person, priority goes to any individuals who are symptomatic. These individuals are encouraged to first contact their physicians or local health center. Testing sites are listed on the U.S Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) website as well as on all local health department sites. All close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 positive individuals are also encouraged to get tested and remain in isolation. 

What happens when you get tested?

There are multiple paths to testing, depending on your organization’s capacity. Some organizations may opt to support testing through at home testing kits, which they can offer at a regular cadence to their staff or volunteers. We discuss this method — and its possible pitfalls — in more detail in the next section. 

Others may opt to support an effective screening system and help individuals find their local testing clinic. Your organization can apply screening templates within the GivePulse platform, and in addition create posters and shareable guides relaying the nearest testing clinics. Use the Local Health Department Directory or this list of Testing Sites to learn more about where testing is offered. Make clear to employees and staff whether you offer insurance that covers the test; if not, encourage them to check whether their test is covered by the CARES Act, and let them know that some clinics also offer free testing. 

At this time, testing for the presence of the virus is primarily administered through a nasal or throat swab, which is considered the standard to measure an active infection. A blood test can also be done to detect any antibodies to the virus that would result from being infected in the past. Both tests require laboratory processing, which means the time it takes to receive results depends on several outside factors. This time can range anywhere from three hours to five days. As COVID cases continue to rise, this time may increase due to the volume of tests that need to be processed. 

This graphic describes the three types of testing available at this time. Source:  FDA 

While testing is critical to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, it has its challenges. In particular, we do not yet have a 100% accurate test — false negatives, as well as false positives, have been known to occur, meaning that receiving a negative test result does not mean that you are necessarily COVID-free. If you have reason to believe that you have been exposed to the virus, you should continue to quarantine even after receiving a negative test result in order to avoid spread of COVID-19. Talk to your physician to determine how long you should continue quarantining for. 

Meeting the Challenges of Testing

Many K-12 and higher education institutions have had to determine the safest and most effective way to approach testing the large groups of students returning to a campus setting this fall. Widespread testing requires significant resources and planning. 

Effective testing plans emphasize widespread testing, transparent guidelines, and public health training. As you update or create your own testing regimen, these are three facets that will be critical to ensuring employee, volunteer, client, and student safety. 

For example, our partners at the University of Alabama have laid out clear and detailed guidelines for testing students and staff. These protocols are designed for maximum safety and efficiency. Students are asked to attend specific testing slots based on the last digits of their campus IDs, while employees only need to receive testing if they plan to return to campus. Both students and employees are able to receive testing for free through the specified location, and both have access to public health training that enables them to make safe, informed decisions regarding their personal choices to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

Public health training offers a crucial component of these testing protocols, which can have impacts beyond the campus itself.  The communities of higher ed institutions are aware of the possible impact that an influx of students can have on their shared well-being; because of this, testing is crucial not only to individual organizations and institutions, but the broader communities in which they work. 

Working With Communities

For higher education institutions, recognizing the community impact of their efforts might lead to partnerships within these communities. In fact, affiliating with community partners can be a key step in making testing efforts more feasible. For example, our friends at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have partnered with the University of Alabama System and the Alabama Department of Public Health to form a coalition with University of South Alabama, HudsonAlpha and Kailos Genetics. This coalition formed a testing plan that would cover not only every student reentering the campus, but also residents in underserved regions of Alabama. 

We believe that this community-oriented approach will strengthen communities both in protection against the virus, but also in partnerships moving forward. Campus communities can themselves be leaned on for volunteers within the community.

In these instances, rather than having students sign up for potentially overburdened testing centers in the communities, institutions could support testing on their own campuses. It is important to note that even FDA approved tests are only approved through the Emergency Use Authorization — that is, these diagnostic tests are not technically approved, but can still be used under the Emergency Use Authorization. 

Even so, some organizations and institutions may choose to support at-home testing for key members of staff who need to interact with vulnerable community members, or as a crucial first step to add an additional safety precaution. Bear in mind that the most accurate results will still likely come from trained personnel. 

Whether you are seeking innovative testing solutions or figuring out how to strengthen ties to the community, GivePulse hopes we can be your thought partners in testing, tracing, and screening. To join the public health task force and work with us on these and other crucial concerns, email covid@givepulse.com. While these times are challenging, there is much to be hopeful about. We are here to support you. 

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