These are tumultuous times.

We’re living through a pandemic – one of the worst public health and economic crisis for our generation. Thankfully my wife, family, and I are well so far. I’m grateful and do not take for granted we have the means and wherewithal to prepare and take the necessary precautions to reduce our risk of exposure.

I must admit a few weeks ago when my wife was adamant, we should have two weeks’ worth of supplies in our home I shrugged it off, thinking she was overreacting, especially when she added bottles of water and toilet paper to the list. My instincts, however, that quiet internal voice nudged me to listen and take heed. So off we went to the grocery stores, stocking up on non-perishable groceries and other necessary supplies we need in case of an emergency or quarantine situation.

As someone who works in the disaster relief space, I should recognize the importance of preparation as I’ve seen first-hand how communities are impacted by natural disasters. The impact Hurricane Maria had and still has on Puerto Rico is one I’ll never forget. Seeing the needs of those impacted firsthand was heartbreaking. Basic self-care supplies were lacking as stores, hospitals, homes, schools, and businesses where destroyed by the hurricane. Through the resilience of Puerto Rico, the tremendous support of the philanthropic community Puerto Rico is now recovering from the devastation.

Because there was a start and an end to this natural disaster, it was much easier to plan and act accordingly. With COVID-19, it’s a new novel virus with no known end date – making it much more challenging to prepare and respond. We can learn from those countries like Singapore who practiced social containment early on, which was critical in minimizing the impact of COVID-19.  Hence the cry for those who have flu-like symptoms to go into voluntarily quarantine, to distance oneself socially to reduce risk of exposure and/or to prevent exposing others who maybe more vulnerable than you. School closures are happening across the country and working remotely is being encouraged. This is disruptive but may be our new normal for several more weeks to come.

Information on COVID-19 is emerging quickly, but there is still much we don’t know about the virus. What we do know about most public health crises is the most vulnerable are those at the highest risk of being infected. The most susceptible include the elderly, homeless, low-income families, those who are chronically ill with a low immune system, healthcare workers and caregivers. Some of the most vulnerable don’t have the means to stock up with essential supplies to see them through a two-week quarantine. Low-income families or hourly workers don’t have the luxury of purchasing weeks’ worth of groceries. The homeless may not have access to clean water to wash their hands frequently. And some front-line healthcare workers are lacking personal protective equipment (PPE), protocols, supervision, and other resources they need to test and treat patients. Many healthcare workers are parents. I wonder when schools are closed who is looking after their children as they work around the clock to save lives. Furthermore, healthcare workers are under immense pressure, and no doubt it’s having an impact on their emotional health. I wonder if healthcare workers and the general population are getting the emotional support required to manage through these uncharted waters.

Then there is the hourly worker or the entrepreneur whose livelihood requires them to go to work and interact with people. A loss of a daily wage could cripple their ability to pay rent, buy food, and provide for their families. Businesses are shutting their doors be it temporary, which all in all is having a negative impact on the economy.

So, what can we do to help?

Here are my thoughts.

Communication and information. Ensuring everyone has access to accurate information on how to prevent and contain the virus is key. Here are some excellent resources I recommend you check daily for updates, symptoms and testing, prevention and protection advice, hand washing guidance, travel advice, FAQ’s, research and development, business, health care facilities and much more important information to help manage through this pandemic:

The Center for Disease Control:

World Health Organization:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation:

Center for Disaster Philanthropy:

Check in on vulnerable people at high risk to COVID-19. If you know anyone who doesn’t have access to technology or the internet, give them a call, check in on them from time to time. Let them know they’re not alone. Discuss ways in how you can provide them with updated accurate information which can ultimately help them manage through and alleviate any fear they may be feeling. If you know someone who is over 60 years old and living by themselves, or a frontline healthcare worker – commit to checking in on them virtually. Avoid contact if you can as you don’t want to run the risk of transmitting any gems. It’s important to note if you’re feeling fit and healthy, you may be asymptomatic and run the risk of exposing those whose immune systems are compromised.

Stay connected to your people. Both near and far – check in to see if they’re okay and doing what they can to reduce the risk of being infected. I call my son, sister and mum in the United Kingdom. It’s reaching panic levels over there as well. My mother who is over 70 years old is not doing any of these things I’m recommending. I must be patient yet persistent, trying to influence her to stop attending mass every day and watch it on the television instead. I’m also trying to persuade her to stop doing her community service in the hospital, visiting and sitting with sick patients. This is a task my mother loves to do on a weekly basis. I’m concerned because my mother has a compromised immune system and convincing her to do anything she doesn’t want to do is not an easy task. Regardless, my sisters and continue to provide information so she can make the right choices. Being supportive may not be an easy task, but it’s a necessary one, especially if you have information others don’t.

Try not to go crazy in the stores. Save some for other people – those who can’t afford to stock-up. I know we all need our stuff but consider only taking what you need. This is easier said than done, especially when we don’t know when this will end. I had to take a step back just the other day when shopping for perishable groceries. The store had toilet paper. I picked it up because I knew there was a shortage (panic buying) then I stopped, thought about the supply I had at home and put it back on the shelf thinking of those who really need it.

Now you have this unexpected this time at home consider virtual volunteering to help minimize negative workforce implications at non-profit organizations. Some examples of good organized volunteer opportunities are virtual volunteer platforms, UN volunteering online (international), Volunteer Match, and All for Good. Skills based (pro bono) volunteering should also be considered.

Donate to vetted non-profit organizations. If you are able, donate to a vetted organization providing support to the most vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re working for a company that offers matching grants and/or dollars for doers’ programs, don’t forget to apply for these additional funds for your chosen non-profit organizations when you donate or volunteer. 

Tackle food insecurity. With schools closed, businesses slowing down and social distancing, some people are unable to provide food for their families. A good friend and mentor who lives in Atlanta is supporting local food banks by helping with the distribution of food to low-income families. The same applies in Minnesota. We know school closures will impact low income and marginalized families' ability to provide meals for their children. If you’re passionate about addressing food insecurity explore ways in which you can help virtually to support local food banks at for example Northpoint or no profit charities like Feeding America.

What does the future look like?

This could be our new normal. Inevitably we will experience yet another public health crisis of this magnitude in the future. Some important lessons will be learned from how the world handled the COVID-19 pandemic and other epidemics like Ebola, Zika, and SARs. It’s of paramount importance that public and private sectors come together to share data, expertise, and resources to enhance preventative plans and procedures for effective management through and after a crisis. I’m hopeful this is an opportunity for us to also experience and witness good citizenship and stewards of our community – supporting and helping each other to manage through a crisis. These are such times when compassion and humanity come into play irrespective of your background, race, or gender. COVID-19 and other natural disasters do not discriminate, so let’s not discriminate when we respond and provide immediate, and long-term relief. Let’s remember those who are in need the most and see what we can do to help – big or small – a simple phone call or donated dollar can make the world of difference for those in need.

Dr. Sylvia Bartley a senior global director for the Medtronic Foundation is well known for her community work in the Twin Cities and her voice on KMOJ radio. She was recently listed in Great Britain’s Powerlist 2020, of the top 100 most influential Black people in the U.K. She was also named as one of Pollen’s 2019 50 over 50 Minnesota. Her book, “Turning the Tide: Neuroscience, Spirituality and My Path Toward Emotional Health” outlines the links between our brains and our souls while inspiring readers to change the world with that knowledge.


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