An Olympics Like No Other

The upcoming Tokyo Games will offer important lessons for other upcoming mass global events, like the World Expo in Dubai beginning in October and the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, in Scotland in November—as well as the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Japanese companies put a record $3 billion towards sponsoring the Olympics

But without spectators in attendance, and given public opposition in Japan and elsewhere to holding the event, many are scaling back promotional events and booths, frustrated their investment won’t yield the expected return. 

Positive coronavirus cases are already appearing among athletes, team staff and International Olympic Committee officials.

The IOC has instituted strict protocols for the 11,000 athletes competing and living in the Olympic Village for the next three weeks, including:

  • Wear a mask other than when training, competing, eating, drinking or sleeping. 
  • Limit contact with others as much as possible and remain more than six feet apart at all times, including during meals.
  • Avoid cheering, shouting, handshakes and high-fives during competition.

Similar constraints are in place for the 79,000 journalists, officials and staff who will also be in attendance. The city of Tokyo is already under a state of emergency that will last through the games.

How Businesses Can Support Public Health

COVID-19 has underscored just how critical businesses are in shaping public health outcomes. But the Integrated Benefits Institute estimates poor worker health cost U.S. employers $575 billion and 1.5 billion days of lost productivity in 2019— even before the pandemic began.

The de Beaumont Foundation and the Health Action Alliance have issued new guidelines for how businesses can contribute to healthier communities:

  • Determine what issues are causing employee absenteeism, retention failures, stress and anxiety. Work with public health leaders to map health solutions to these challenges.” Causes could include lack of childcare, distance to health care providers and mental health challenges.
  • “Build partnerships in your community and invest in solutions that meet both employee and community needs.” Work with local leaders to address housing, childcare, food security and emotional support gaps. Consider designating an official company liaison to the community who can also advocate for employee health concerns. 
  • “Tell your local and state governments that supporting public health is good for business and must be a priority.” Advocacy in nine areas identified by CityHealth can help move the needle on helping people live longer, healthier lives:
    • Affordable housing
    • Earned sick leave
    • Food safety and restaurant inspections
    • Complete streets policies
    • Safer alcohol sales policies
    • Healthy food procurement 
    • Smoke-free indoor air
    • High-quality and accessible universal pre-K
    • Tobacco 21

Read the full report here.

Global Protests Complicate COVID Mitigation Efforts

Civil unrest has complicated South Africa and Cuba’s uneven battles against the latest wave of COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant. 

In South Africa, the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma sparked massive protests in his home province— also home to economic capital Johannesburg and political capital Pretoria. 

The protests have halted state-administered vaccinations in this area, which has a combined population of over 23 million people— more than a third of the total country. 

With only 2.5% of the country fully vaccinated and cases spiking to record levels over the past month, the delays are a matter of life and death. Furthermore, local outlets report over 90 pharmacies and vaccination centers have been looted or destroyed in the upheaval. 

After a series of distribution-halting vaccine complications, South Africa was already severely behind schedule. And these most recent delays may cripple the country’s efforts for the foreseeable future. Government officials have warned the destruction caused by the protests may take years to rebuild.  

In Cuba, the pandemic has had drastic consequences for the country’s public health and economy, moving many to object to the government regime. 

Cuba has also declined to accept WHO-funded vaccine aid, instead developing its own vaccine, Abdala, which it started administering two months before its emergency approval. 

A second vaccine is expecting approval in the coming days, but less than 20% of Cubans are fully vaccinated, and the country’s public healthcare system is suffering from a shortage of syringes, further hindering vaccine administration. 

Furthermore, protests have caused a massive spike in cases across the country. Throughout the pandemic, the Caribbean island has maintained relatively low case rates. But over the past two weeks the rate has shot up by 536% to over 6,000 new cases per day.

Four Takeaways from Nikole Hannah-Jones vs. UNC

The University of North Carolina is reeling from public rebuke in its treatment of Nikole Hannah-Jones, a case involving issues of race, gender, merit and privilege that offers a cautionary tale for any institution

The university’s delay of a tenure offer for Hannah-Jones came amid conservative criticism of her work on The New York Times’ 1619 Project. And it led to widespread criticism that damaged UNC’s brand and raised questions about its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Kito Huggins, the co-chair of FGH’s Diversity and Inclusion practice, offers four takeaways for communicators:

Be transparent, truthful and timely.
For months UNC did not explain why it delayed consideration of Hannah-Jones’ tenure, even as criticism mounted. Choosing the path of least resistance – silence – will greatly compromise an organization’s position, irreparably impair the credibility of lead speakers and allow critics to fill the void.

Follow your own rules.
Any organization about to take a position amid controversy must be able to cite the protocol that was followed. The prolonged delay of Hannah-Jones’ tenure candidacy marked a glaring departure from precedent set since the 1980s.

Lead with compassion and respect.
When managing a sensitive matter, organizational communications that are cold, evasive and officious will only stoke the outrage of vocal dissenters. Leading these conversations and treating stakeholders with dignity and respect can quell the backlash.

Develop and deploy a crisis playbook.
Before organizations are thrust into public debate on controversial matters, they must plan for crisis communications. Messages should be refined, practiced but not contrived, and pressure tested to face tough questions.

How Employers Can Help Increase Vaccination

Axios’ recent analysis of CDC data shows more than half of unvaccinated Americans live in households with an annual income of less than $50,000–indicating barriers to vaccination may derive less from vaccine skepticism than from inaccessibility. 

With employees concerned about childcare and missing work due to vaccination or its side effects, businesses have a big role to play in closing the gap. 

The Center for American Progress offers ten recommendations for how companies can increase access to vaccination, including:

  • Reimbursing transportation to vaccination sites or providing on-site vaccination; 
  • Hosting publicly accessible vaccination clinics; 
  • Offering workers paid leave for vaccination and recovery;
  • Offering monetary incentives–or perks such as discounts–to vaccinated employees, and 
  • Educating employees on vaccination and supporting community awareness campaigns through trusted local messengers.

While most employers are stopping short of requiring employees to get vaccinated

  • Amazon is arranging on-site vaccination visits and reimbursing transportation to vaccination sites,
  • Chobani is offering paid leave to employees for each vaccine dose appointment and the expected recovery, and 
  • Kroger is offering cash incentives and discounted services to vaccinated workers, or even preferred seating at sports and entertainment events. 

Other companies paying employees or offering them paid leave to get vaccinated include Aldi, Amtrak, Dollar General, Instacart, McDonalds, Target and Trader Joe’s.

Public health officials have also offered new messaging guidance around the new FDA warning label on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, pointing out:

  • “The risk of severe adverse events after any COVID-19 vaccination remains very low, and far lower than adverse health outcomes associated with contracting COVID-19,” and
  • “The identification of any possible risks, like the low risks associated with the J&J vaccine, is a sign that the nation’s safety monitoring system for COVID-19 vaccines is working.”

Running Out of Time

Congress is back in session for a short period, with a lot to consider and a little time before their August recess. 

Staff for a bipartisan group of senators worked over the July 4 recess on a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal but still have a heavy lift to get it voted on this work period. Key issues need to be resolved, bill language needs to finalized and supporters need to line up the 60 votes necessary to ensure final passage. And some Republican senators who were seen as open to supporting the bill appear to have cooled a bit and say they want to see if the plan can be fully paid for. 

The second major item on the Democrats’ agenda for the summer work period is the budget. After initially proposing a $6 trillion reconciliation bill primarily for “soft infrastructure,” such as a child tax credit, health care, education, energy tax credits and more, reports indicate Democrats are now looking to cut the cost roughly in half.

However the discussions of a big multi-trillion dollar Democratic-only package at the same time the bipartisan infrastructure group is trying to nail down the details of its bill has clearly unsettled some in the Republican and perhaps even Democratic caucuses.

Making Reporting More Diverse

FGH’s Health Media Insights newsletter recently covered how media outlets are striving include a diverse array of sources to accurately represent the communities they cover.

Here’s how you can help:

  • Include different types of voices in your pitch proactively. While some tools are available to help journalists connect with people who are underrepresented in media, you can also play an important role in promoting diverse voices and making sure the communities being covered are also included in the story.
  • Before pitching, consider choosing a spokesperson who can best speak to the issue and the target audience. If you’re pitching a story about equity issues, for example, offering interviews with experts of color can help journalists get the important context and perspective they need to tell the best story. Broadcast bookers in particular are always looking for diverse voices, so including a wide array of spokespeople will not just help provide important context, but can help improve your chances of landing the pitch.

To sign up for FGH’s Health Media Insights newsletter, email health@fgh.com.