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The following is a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on Forbes on October 19, 2021.

In mid-September the United States passed a tragic milestone: one in every 500 Americans had died of Covid-19. By early October, it was one in every 469 Americans. And counting …

For decades in my crisis management practice, I have preached that the severity of an underlying crisis does not determine how the crisis turns out. Two organizations in the same crisis at the same time can have dramatically different outcomes. Rather, the timeliness and quality of the response determine whether or not an organization suffers a catastrophic outcome. Act effectively and quickly and the crisis resolves or plays out with minimal damage. Delay or dither and things get disproportionately worse.

It is uncommon for multiple organizations to go through the same crisis simultaneously. But Covid-19 is a crisis with which every organization around the world has been grappling. We now have experienced a kind of laboratory experiment of how different jurisdictions responded to the pandemic differently. We can track the different outcomes. We can learn from them. And we can apply those lessons, not only in the continued pandemic response but in future crises, as well.

Crisis Management Works

All the trends point to a common conclusion: Crisis management works. But only when we manage the crisis effectively. Failing to follow crisis management principles can have devastating consequences. There are three rules that lead to the successful resolution of a crisis:

1. Take the crisis seriously.

2. Take the risks seriously.

3. Mitigate those risks.

We can see clearly how the death rates in different jurisdictions were different based on leaders’ adherence, or lack of adherence, to these rules.

A Tale Of Two Nations: Republic Of Korea And United States Of America

On January 20, 2020, the U.S. had its first confirmed Covid-19 case. That same day the first confirmed Covid-19 case was recorded in South Korea.

Unlike the U.S., South Korea took the crisis and the risks seriously. Six years earlier, it had been burned by its mishandling of a public health emergency that had led to dozens of deaths and that had almost brought down the government. Not this time: No dithering, denial or delay.

Initially, South Korea had the highest Covid-19 death rate outside of China. But its leaders quickly worked to mitigate the risks. They launched a whole of government response. In particular, South Korea followed all the mitigation guidelines that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised. These included mandatory masking, distancing, quarantines, contract tracing and testing. And it worked. Infection and death rates plummeted and have stayed low.

The United States did not take the crisis or the risks seriously, nor did the U.S. act to mitigate the risks. President Trump and his allies persistently denied or downplayed the reality of the virus.

The United States never had a whole-government response. And the nation never consistently followed CDC guidelines. In 2020, leaders, including the president, rationalized away the risks. They failed to model safe behavior, even including the wearing of masks. They continued to have large unmasked gatherings. And the pandemic itself became inexorably tangled into the politics of a presidential election, with large numbers taking sides about the reality of the virus itself, a disturbing trend that continues to this day, nearly a year after the election.

But public health experts have been sounding the alarm about the risks for more than a year. Last October, Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness concluded that of the 217,000 American Covid-19 fatalities to date, as many as 210,000 could have been prevented by taking appropriate precautions. At the time the U.S. had the highest Covid-19 rate among peer countries. Korea had the lowest.

At about the same time, the venerable New England Journal of Medicine said that the U.S. had failed at every step to take effective mitigation steps and said Americans were dying because of a leadership vacuum.

In February 2021, the British medical journal Lancet noted that as many as 40% of American Covid-19 deaths could have been avoided.

Even after the vaccines became widely available, the seeds of distrust and division continued to hamper mitigation efforts, especially in states whose governors forbade mask mandates and where vaccine hesitancy prevailed.

By late September 2021, American deaths had surpassed two round numbers — one in 500 Americans, for a total of 700,000 deaths. Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs noted that if the U.S. had done what was necessary to keep the death rate the same as our peer countries, 650,000 fewer Americans would have died.

So, what is the current Covid-19 death rate in South Korea compared to the U.S.? One in every 20,000 South Koreans, compared to one in every 469 Americans.

South Korea followed the three crisis management rules:

1. It took the problem seriously.

2. It took the risks seriously.

3. It did what was necessary to mitigate those risks.

The United States did not. The difference: American Covid-19 deaths are at 42 times the rate in South Korea. Most American fatalities were preventable, especially after the vaccines became available to anyone willing to take them.

We see at the national level dramatically different outcomes to the common crisis. There are many lessons we can harvest from the tragedies — including the dangers of misinformation and of political polarization of science. But the crisis management lesson, devoid of politics and ideology, is clear: In a crisis, take the crisis seriously, take the risks seriously, mitigate the risks fully. The outcomes will be far less devastating.

On July 26, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in an article on Ragan Wellness on what organizations should consider when planning their employees’ return to work post-COVID-19.

 

The article outlines the internal issues organizations are currently facing, noting that a recent survey found that 58% of remote workers would look for a new job if a hybrid work option is not on the table.

 

Garcia highlighted the importance of expectation management when communicating decisions on what a return to office looks like for organizations. “Expectation management is the key to a successful transition back to the office,” he explained. “Clear, frequent communication about what employees can expect—and what is expected of them.

 

Read the full article here.

On July 5, 2021, Logos President Helio Fred Garcia was quoted in Narbis on the ways management can successfully manage expectations around returning to the office post-pandemic. The article outlines the many considerations leaders need to assess when planning for a return to office.

 

“Whatever an organization’s plans are for the return of their workforce to physical office spaces, clear, frequent communication about what employees can expect — and what is expected of them — will support a smoother return and make them more productive,” said Garcia.

 

“Expectation management is the key to a successful and productive transition back to the office. When expectations are clearly defined and met, trust is either maintained or regained if trust has already been lost. When leaders fail to meet expectations, trust will fall, and dysfunction will likely rise.”

 

Read the full article here.

On January 19, 2021, Logos Associate Holly Helstrom was quoted in a Forbes article about the struggle many organizations are facing around COVID-19 vaccination policies. The article details how companies are split in terms of whether or not to require employees to get the vaccine respectively.

Helstrom, an Adjunct Instructor at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering who teaches a course on First Amendment rights for employees, explained that an employer has the legal right to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine policy if they’re a private sector at-will employer.

“Refusal to get a Covid-19 vaccine if your employer is requiring one could get you fired and your employer would be within their legal rights to do so,” said Helstrom.

Helstrom advised organizations to use its values to guide vaccination decisions. “Having clarity on one’s values, whether from the employer or employee perspective, can make the decision easier,” she said. “If individual liberty is more important to you than job security, your decision when navigating this question as an employee will be much easier.”

Read the full article here.

On January 18, 2021, Logos Associate Holly Helstrom was quoted in an article on Digiday about how businesses can navigate the need for COVID-19 vaccination policies. Helstrom, an Adjunct Instructor at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering who teaches a course on First Amendment rights for employees, explained that an employer has the legal right to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine policy if they’re a private sector at-will employer.

Helstrom explained, “Employers can and have fired employees based on lifestyle choices related to their health, including if they smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol.” She continued, “Refusal to get a Covid vaccine if your employer is requiring one could get you fired, and your employer would be within their legal rights to do so.”

Read the full article here.

This is an excerpt from a guest column by Helio Fred Garcia, originally published on Commpro.biz on January 4, 2021.

The first American case of COVID-19 was diagnosed on January 20, 2020.

Exactly one year later Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States.

What happened in the United States in between is different from what happened in other developed countries.

Twenty million Americans contracted COVID-19 between the first case and the end of the year.

2020 was the single deadliest year in American history. The first U.S. COVID-19 fatality was on February 6. By year end another 351 thousand Americans had died from the virus. For context, that is more than all the U.S. combat fatalities in World War II and Vietnam combined, but in a single eleven-month period rather than in the 24 years of those wars. For several weeks in December we were seeing the equivalent of a 9/11 casualty rate every day, with total 2020 COVID-19 fatalities equal to 118 separate 9/11 attacks.

Much of this was avoidable. And yet, here we are. So the question is – why did this happen?

Everything Changed

It was a year that changed everything: what it means to be “at work” or “at school”; how we visit the doctor; how we greet each other; how we shop for groceries and other goods; how we say goodbye to loved ones as they take their final breath.

It was a year of great trauma: medical, emotional, spiritual, economic, social.

And it was a year that saw great sacrifice and some of the best of humanity: in the front-line medical workers, in the agility of many companies to re-imagine their business models and their product offerings, in the emergence of a new class of heroes – postal workers, delivery drivers, and grocery clerks, who risked infection to keep us supplied.

And it was a year that intensified much that had already been fraying in the fabric of American civic life: hyper-polarization in politics, mistrust of each other and of civic institutions, and the shattering of social and political norms.

In the time of the pandemic we saw the explicit elevation and endorsement of white supremacist and conspiracist groups, such as the Proud Boys and QAnon. But also the largest civil rights protest in American history, with more than 25 million Americans marching in support of Black Lives Matter – and this in the days and weeks following the first wave of reopening after two months of stay-at-home orders.

After decades of one party discrediting science – from refusing to accept the reality of evolution, to redefining when human life begins, to denying the reality of climate change – we saw millions of Americans deny what scientists, public health experts, and their own doctors told them: that the virus is real, that it is deadly, that you can transmit it even when asymptomatic; and that masking, distancing, and handwashing are keys to prevention. The American population seemed to divide into those who believe what science teaches and those who choose not to. But as a popular T-shirt and internet meme noted, Science Doesn’t Care What You Believe.

The pandemic coincided with one of the most bizarre and contentious presidential election campaigns in American history, in which despite no evidence of fraud the sitting president refused to acknowledge defeat and lost more than 50 lawsuits challenging the results. And who for the eight weeks between the election and the new year seemed to give up on being president. He stayed out of sight and silent on anything having to do with the pandemic, even as fatalities approached the 350 thousand mark and infections soared to 20 million, and as he rage-tweeted about the so-called “massive fraud” that had prevented his re-election.

But the hardships were real and were devastating. In the weeks before and after Christmas, hospitalization rates reached record highs, with whole regions, including southern California, reporting zero intensive care beds available. At least one Los Angeles hospital started treating patients in the gift shop; another in a cafeteria; yet another in its chapel. But the real shortage was of medical personnel to treat the record number of patients. Doctors began talking about the need to choose which patients to treat, and which to leave to die.

The nation saw the infection rate grow by a million cases every few days. And despite pleas from public health officials and hospital front-line workers, Americans continued to travel for the holidays, risking what health workers called a surge on top of a surge. And some governors refused to require citizens to wear masks in public. Florida’s governor even forbade Florida cities and counties from requiring masks and social distancing in their jurisdictions. And the White House, the State Department, and other federal agencies held dozens of holiday parties indoors and without a masking requirement: yet more super-spreader events.

Incompetence

It did not need to be this way.

Much of the suffering, the hardship, the sacrifice could have been avoided. It resulted from a lethal combination of incompetence, dishonesty, and neglect.

The United States, alone in the world, intentionally refused to follow or mandate basic public health steps: a national masking, distancing, testing, and contact tracing policy. There was no whole of government response; at best there were fragments of government responses. And some parts of the government seemed to be at war against other parts. Indeed, some parts of government seemed to be at war against themselves, such as the White House Pandemic Task Force, where in a single press conference the politicians would contradict the public health experts, and vice versa.

The president and other senior government officials modeled the opposite of the public health guidelines, remaining unmasked in public and holding super-spreader events where the crowd was unmasked and packed close together – in violation also of local masking and distancing ordinances.

Continue reading here.

On December 22, 2020, Logos Associate Holly Helstrom was quoted in an article on Workable.com on the best practices for a COVID-19 vaccination policy for businesses. Workable, a recruitment software company, surveyed a variety of legal experts on whether and how employers can mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for their employees.

Helstrom, an an Adjunct Instructor at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering who teaches a course on First Amendment rights for employees, explained that an employer has the legal right to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine policy if they’re a private sector at-will employer.

“This is a product of how US labor law and the Constitution are written,” Helstrom noted. “Employers can and have fired employees based on lifestyle choices related to their health, including if they smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. Refusal to get a COVID vaccine if your employer is requiring one could get you fired and your employer would be within their legal rights to do so.“

Read the full article here.

On December 16, 2020, Logos Associate Holly Helstrom was quoted in an article on Healthline on how at-will employers can mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for their employees.

Helstrom, an an Adjunct Instructor at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering who teaches a course on First Amendment rights for employees, explained that an employer has the legal right to mandate policies around lifestyle choices and employers have fired people for lifestyle choices in the past.

“Employers can and have fired employees based on lifestyle choices related to their health, including if they smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol,” she said. “Refusal to get a COVID vaccine if your employer is requiring one could get you fired and your employer would be within their legal rights to do so.”

Helstrom explained that, “your employer is within their legal rights to require you to get a COVID vaccine, if you work for a private sector at-will employer.” However, she did note that rules around vaccination for unionized workers “would likely be a subject for bargaining.”