How to shake the COVID-19 blues in South Florida

How to shake the COVID-19 blues in South Florida

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020For the better half of a year, the majority of news across platforms, watercooler talk and virtual meeting conversations has revolved around the coronavirus pandemic, its impact on the local and global economy, and what the “new normal” may look like. As a result, many South Floridians, like their counterparts elsewhere, are likely suffering COVID-19 fatigue. As South Florida begins its reopening process, here are a few positives from the tri-county area to think about heading into the Memorial Day weekend. 

 

Miami-Dade County

Fun in the virtual sun: The city of Miami Beach wants to bring the tropical vibes to travelers’ living rooms as they plan future vacations and travel. The new social campaign, “From Miami Beach, With Love,” created by the Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority, is designed to deliver the city’s experiences to audiences from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Travel lovers can enter to win different Miami Beach experiences as they contemplate their next South Florida visit. The campaign also features specials and discounts to promote local small businesses in the area. Visit @ExperienceMiamiBeach on Facebook, Instagram and @EMiamiBeach on Twitter for a chance to win and support local Miami Beach businesses. 

Shopping!: For those wanting to help stimulate the local economy or take a stroll through one of the most prestigious fashion centers in the region, the Bal Harbour Shops is open for business. Following all CDC guidelines, Bal Harbour Shops will implement increased safety precautions to protect customers, retailers and employees, according to its management team. In keeping with Miami-Dade County and Bal Harbour Village ordinances, retail stores and indoor restaurant seating occupancy will be limited to 50% and salons will limit occupancy to 25%. Bal Harbour Shops will be open Monday–Saturday from 11:00am–10:00pm and Sunday, 12:00pm-6:00pm, though individual store hours may vary.

Broward County

Largest mall in the county welcomes visitors: Sawgrass Mills, the largest mall in Broward County, is officially open for business. The mall will offer masks, and signage has been placed to account for social distancing. Mall hours will be altered to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday until further notice. Simon, which operates Sawgrass Mills, also announced the reopening of other malls such as Coral Square, Dadeland, The Falls, Miami International and the Florida Keys Outlet Marketplace. 

Palm Beach County

As Palm Beach County begins the reopening of its economy, it has its eye set on providing extra help to those small businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This week, the Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners approved the CARES Restart Business Grants Program to accelerate the reopening of businesses hardest hit by the outbreak. The $60-million Business Restart Program uses a portion of the county’s $261-million allocation from the Federal CARES Act approved by Congress. The BCC has dedicated $50 million toward businesses with 25 or fewer employees and $10 million toward businesses with greater than 25 employees. The online application is expected to launch on Friday, May 22, and will be processed on a first come, first eligible basis, according to the county.

To learn more, visit:

https://www.miamibeachvca.com/

https://www.balharbourshops.com/

https://www.simon.com/mall/sawgrass-mills

http://discover.pbcgov.org/hes/Pages/default.aspx

Spotlight On: Jenna Kelly, Northern Georgia Region President, Truist

Spotlight On: Jenna Kelly, Northern Georgia Region President, Truist

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020SunTrust and BB&T have combined in a historic merger of equals to create Truist, the sixth-largest U.S. bank holding company. With 275 years of combined history serving clients and communities in high-growth markets, the new company will deliver the best of both companies’ talent, technology and processes, Northern Georgia Region President Jenna Kelly told Focus: Atlanta.

 

Q: What has stood out for Truist in Atlanta in the last year?

A: We announced our merger in February last year and closed it in December. We spent the bulk of the year operating independently as SunTrust and BB&T. This meant we really only had three months as a joint entity before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. All along, we have been talking about how this merger was an opportunity to build a better bank and we looked at how we were better together, including our complementary business lines and strategies. One of the exciting developments this year was our announcement of the new branding and our purpose. The Truist purpose is to Inspire and Build Better Lives and Communities. That purpose is at the center of everything we do, and something that differentiates us, especially given the current circumstances, to our clients.

Q: What has been the real impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the operations of Truist?

A: We said from the outset of the merger that all our client-facing teammates would retain roles. Within the Northern Georgia region, our team remains in place and our efforts have really been more about how we integrate culture. With the pandemic, most of our team is working remotely. We paid a $1,200 special bonus to all our teammates who make less than $100,000, we have implemented additional time off and we have introduced more flexibility given family dynamics can be difficult to juggle when childcare or education are not available. 

We also turned our attention to how we can provide our clients with relief. We are participating in the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and we are working on how we can get our clients the funding they need. Through the first round of funding, we have helped around 32,000 clients with $10 billion in PPP loans. In Atlanta, we made around $4 million in grants to the agencies that are on the frontlines of the crisis response. 

Q: As you have seen the landscape change, how have you seen the banking industry set up for the future?

A: The message is that there is a place for everyone, whether it be a small bank, a large regional or a multinational. The impetus behind our merger was the growth of technology in banking. We looked at the demands our clients have in the way they want to be serviced, and it is not necessarily walking into a branch anymore. We needed some additional scale, and we came together so we could be more innovative and make new investments. This does not mean there is no longer a role for community banks. We believe we have a unique opportunity however to leverage our high touch community bank model with investments in technology to create better client experiences and build more trust – something we call T3.

Q: What role does Atlanta continue to play for Truist in its portfolio?

A: Atlanta is our largest market, given it was the headquarters of SunTrust. When we merged, we enhanced our market position. Atlanta is a diversified economy both in industries and population and from a banking perspective, we like where we are in the market. We continue to invest to strengthen our position.  

We have a very long history of supporting Atlanta as well as communities across the state. We announced last year that we would double our commitment to the Atlanta community to $300 million in investments over a three-year period. The investments include a combination of community development investments from the bank and philanthropic grants from our foundation. 

More broadly, the Southeast has been one of the most attractive areas of the country. Those growth dynamics play well for Atlanta, which will continue to attract jobs, companies and population. As we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope to recover faster than other parts of the country, given our position going into the crisis. 

Q: How are banks going to be able to help small businesses through this crisis?

A: Unfortunately, small businesses will be the hardest hit through this pandemic. The government stimulus is certainly a starting point and that will give them some temporary relief. We want to be able to leverage the tools and capabilities we have as a larger bank and deliver them on a local, personalized level. We, as a bank, can perhaps help fund CDFIs that can in turn fund small businesses. There is no one solution, but that is an area we were considering well before the pandemic.

I think it will be interesting to see how this pandemic changes the world for all of us. We have all adapted in ways we probably thought we never would or could. There is a lot of digital activity going on now that makes our merger make even more sense. We set up a portal for the PPP program within 36 hours so our small-business clients could apply for this funding quickly. Now we have this online business portal we can use when it is over to help small businesses apply for loans in ways that were not possible before. It remains to be seen what the scale of the impact will be. For our teammates, the priority will continue to be about their safety and when we will go back to working in a more traditional environment. But we have all proven that we can be productive in a nontraditional environment.

Q: What is the outlook for Truist Atlanta in the next 12-18 months?

A: We will continue our integration of the two banks because we are still operating fairly independently in terms of systems and brands in the market. The full rebranding will not happen until the third quarter of next year, so we have a lot of integration work to do in the next 18 months. We will focus on doing this in the least disruptive way for our clients. One significant and positive development is that we will not need to change our clients’ existing account and routing numbers so they will not have to order new checks. Creating a seamless transition to Truist will help solidify and grow our brand awareness in Atlanta, especially given the loyalty our previous brands generated. 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit: https://www.truist.com/

 

 

Spotlight On: Ava Parker, President, Palm Beach State College

Spotlight On: Ava Parker, President, Palm Beach State College

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020 — Palm Beach State College succeeded in transferring most of its programs to a remote format to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the world early in 2020. The college is preparing the next generation of business leaders and frontline workers with business programs, health sciences career tracks, and fire and law enforcement among its most popular offerings. In an interview with Invest: Palm Beach, college President Ava Parker discussed the school’s most popular programs, its role as a stepping stone to a better life for students, and its stress on academic focus.

 

What are the most popular programs for the college?

As a state college, 60% of our students come here to earn an Associate in Arts (A.A.) degree and transfer to our bachelor’s programs or to a university bachelor’s program, most frequently in the state. Most of our students want to transfer to Florida Atlantic University or the University of Central Florida. Florida International University and the University of Florida are also top choices. 

In our A.A. pathway, many students want to go into business. Our entrepreneurship A.A. and bachelor’s degree tracks are popular, as is getting the business foundation needed to transfer to a university’s program.

Another popular area is health sciences. Many of our students are the first in their families to go to college, so for them, they are thinking about where they have seen people succeed, which people have improved their economic condition because of their chosen profession. Many of our students go into health sciences because that is an area where they can always find a job. The fields that are popular include dental hygiene, nursing, ophthalmic medical technology, respiratory care and radiography. Those are Associate in Science degree programs that many of our students see as opportunities to move from a lower socioeconomic status to the middle class. Most years, 100% of our ophthalmic graduates are placed right away, including at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, where we have a tremendous partnership. Our respiratory care graduates are picked right up once they pass their national boards, as are the radiography and dental hygiene graduates. And of course, our longest waiting list is for nursing. We are a sought-after solution for students, and also hospitals and doctors’ offices, because they understand that our program is rigorous and turns out great nurses. We also have bachelor’s programs in nursing and cardiopulmonary sciences for nurses and respiratory therapists who want to advance.

Our fire, law enforcement and corrections academies are also very popular. Many of our citizens rely on these programs as the primary route to entering those public safety fields. 

How does the college help students update skills to transfer to other institutions? 

Our bachelor’s degree programs are a fast lane. When I shake hands with students who are graduating with our bachelor’s degrees, most of them are in their 30s. They are folks who already have a job, and they found their way to us because they were sitting at work, and there was an HR announcement about a job opportunity that required a bachelor’s degree. 

We are ideal for those people because they can continue to work at their jobs, and they can come to us in the evenings or attend online to earn those additional credentials. We also can do that at a reasonable cost. 

How are your trade programs structured?

Regarding our trade programs, we are the workforce solution for adults in Palm Beach County. We see that as a hallmark of what we do as an institution for people who enjoy working with their hands, or people who want a shorter term of study and come out ready for work. We have long waiting lists for many of our trade certificate programs, which prepare students to become welders, HVAC technicians, machinists, low voltage technicians, electricians, automotive, diesel and marine service technicians as well as cosmetologists and barbers. Our Engineering Technology and Electrical Power Technology A.S. degree programs are producing much-needed technicians to support the manufacturing, aerospace and electrical power generation industries. In fact, graduates of PBSC trade programs can be found throughout the county, contributing to its growth and innovation. 

How is COVID-19 shaping the educational landscape?

I am concerned every day about students withdrawing. Our spring break was the first week of March, and I recall having the first conversation with my leadership team about us preparing for COVID-19. I never would have guessed that a month later most of my staff would be working from home, as well as all of our instruction happening remotely. My biggest worry, because we were able to successfully transfer most of our programs to a remote format, was related to our firefighter and police academies, because our instructors, who are first responders out there at work dealing with the situation, were not available to instruct our students. It was also considered a liability to have our Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program students out there in the hospitals doing their clinical rounds, as well as our nursing students. The hardest thing has been stressing to our students to remain focused on their academic trajectory. Some of them did not have the devices to actually make the transition, so we had to go and look throughout the college for every laptop available for our students to check out, because it is really difficult to do your homework from your phone.

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: https://www.palmbeachstate.edu/

Georgia nurtures positive business activity despite pandemic

Georgia nurtures positive business activity despite pandemic

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020 — The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the national economy since its arrival in early March. As the phased opening of the local and national economies begins, states are looking to safely move past the outbreak that shuttered businesses, halted economic activity and sent unemployment rates soaring. Though March and April were characterized by challenging economic times for the nation, Georgia’s diverse business foundation proved to be resilient in the face of pandemic-related adversity. From distribution giant Amazon to local, highly-technical operations expanding in the Peach State, the region celebrated continuous business wins in a time marked by uncertainty and shelter-in-place measures.  

As e-commerce continues to boom, Amazon looked to expand its footprint in Georgia and fully take advantage of the state’s robust distribution infrastructure. In late April, the retailer announced plans for a new fulfillment center planned for Appling, in Columbia County. The new, multilevel operations facility will feature innovative Amazon robotics technology and create 800 full-time jobs, while marking the largest investment of its kind in Columbia County.

“Amazon’s continued investments in Georgia are a testament to all that our state can offer, including the logistics and top-notch workforce needed for their growing global business,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. Amazon employs more than 3,500 full-time employees in Georgia and has existing operations in Jefferson, Braselton, Lithia Springs, East Point, Kennesaw, Macon, and Union City. “I could not be more proud to welcome them to the Central Savannah River Area, and I am excited for the hardworking Georgians who will benefit from this new operation,” Kemp said. 

Amazon leaders touted Georgia’s workforce as a major contributor to its success in the region. “We are proud to continue our investment in Georgia with great jobs and a new, state-of-the-art fulfillment center in Columbia County to serve our customers across the state,” said Robert Packett, regional director of Amazon operations. “The Peach State and its incredible workforce have been vital to our ability to provide great selection, competitive prices and the Prime services we know our customers love. We are excited to create 800 new full-time jobs, with industry-leading pay and benefits on Day One, in the community.”

In similar fashion, local biotechnology company RWDC Industries announced in May a $260-million expansion of its operations into Athens-Clarke County, slated to create some 200 jobs. Founded in an innovation lab at the University of Georgia in 2015, RWDC Industries has emerged as a global leader in developing cost-effective alternatives to single-use plastics. “RWDC Industries is a perfect example of Georgians’ creative approach to solving problems and finding great success, thanks in part to state resources like our public university system,” Gov. Kemp said. RWDC will expand into an existing 400,000-square-foot facility in Athens. 

This announcement comes as consumer demand for sustainable alternatives to plastic continues to grow. RWDC Industries is a biotechnology company that develops innovative and cost-effective biopolymer material solutions, including polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PHA is fully biodegradable and can be used as a substitute for plastic in a wide range of daily, single-use consumer goods, from straws to utensils to cups and plates to lids.

“We are excited to see RWDC expand its operations in Athens and add a substantial number of new well-paying jobs,” said Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz. “Athens is the home of the University of Georgia, and we have a long record of supporting innovation and industry. Like communities across America and the world, we want to see a reduction in plastic pollution, and we have high hopes that RWDC, with the help of the Athens community at their new facility, will be able to solve that problem.”

 

To learn more, visit:

https://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2020-04-27/amazon-announces-new-fulfillment-center-creating-800-new-jobs-columbia

https://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2020-05-05/rwdc-industries-invest-260-million-athens-clarke-county-expansion-create

https://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2020-05-08/1-roof-trusses-plans-17-million-investment-130-jobs-decatur-county

https://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2020-05-05/sk-innovation-begin-construction-second-georgia-battery-facility-july

https://gov.georgia.gov/press-releases/2020-04-29/batter-foods-invests-34m-fulton-co-waffle-plant-creates-162-jobs

 

 

Pennsylvania ready for a partial reopening; Philly, New Jersey not there yet

Pennsylvania ready for a partial reopening; Philly, New Jersey not there yet

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read May 2020 — Along the East Coast, states are phasing in the reopening of their respective economies after weeks of economic inactivity as a result of the coronavirus. In the Northeast, Pennsylvania is the latest state to begin the battle of balancing public health and economic recovery by partially opening 24 counties along the northwest and north-central regions of the state beginning Friday. Most notable during this process, Philadelphia County, a major economic driver for the state and its most populous county, will remain shut down. Across the Delaware Valley, New Jersey remains in a health battle as Gov. Phil Murphy extended his shelter in place order for another 30 days.

“Over the past two months, Pennsylvanians in every corner of our commonwealth have acted collectively to stop the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a press release. “We have seen our new case numbers stabilize statewide and while we still have areas where outbreaks are occurring, we also have many areas that have few or no new cases.” The 24 counties reopening on Friday are Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango and Warren. These counties were deemed ready to move to a reopening because of low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, and appropriate population density to contain community spread, according to the governor’s office.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney says he’s “not going to sacrifice people’s lives” in reopening the city too soon during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to local news sources. Kenney said there is no timetable as to when the city will open. “You can’t set a timeline. The timeline is what the virus dictates. We certainly have targeted things we’d like to see happen, but unless the data indicates that it’s safe, then it’s not safe,” Kenney said, according to CBS 3 Philly. 

Gov. Wolf urged citizens to adhere to all social distancing and health guidelines. “Every human-to-human contact is a chance for the virus to spread, so more contacts mean a higher likelihood of an outbreak,” Wolf said. “If we see an outbreak occur in one of the communities that has been moved to yellow, we will need to take swift action, and revert to the red category until the new case count falls again. So, Pennsylvanians living in a county that has been moved to the yellow category should continue to strongly consider the impact of their actions.”

In New Jersey, Gov. Murphy erred on the side of caution, as the state continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. “I want to make it absolutely clear that this action does not mean that we are seeing anything in the data which would pause our path forward, and it should not be interpreted by anyone to mean we are going to be tightening any of the restrictions currently in place. These declarations, unless extended, expire after 30 days,” Murphy said. 

No formal timeline was given as to when the economy will reopen. In the meantime, Murphy urged residents to continue to observe all social distancing and health guidelines. “If this extension of the public health emergency signals one thing, it is this: we can’t give up one bit on the one thing that we know that is working in this fight, social distancing,” Murphy said. “Remember, in the absence of either a vaccine, or proven therapeutics for COVID-19 specifically, our only cure is social distancing, covering our faces, washing our hands with soap etc. And we know, by the way, that the effort of millions in this state is working. We have made enormous strides, folks, unlike any American state. Let’s keep it that way.”

 

To learn more, visit: https://www.governor.pa.gov/newsroom/gov-wolf-announces-reopening-of-24-counties-beginning-may-8/

https://www.nj.gov/governor/news/news/562020/approved/20200506c.shtml

Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

Spotlight On: Catherine Stempien, President, Duke Energy Florida

By: Max Crampton-Thomas

2 min read April 2020 — Duke Energy is among the largest electric power holding companies in the United States. In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic caused a virtual economic shutdown, Duke Energy took its own measures to alleviate the stress for customers, announcing it would not suspend customers’ power during the course of the pandemic. President Catherine Stempien discusses the region’s energy needs during the crisis and the impact from the virus, and its own transition to remote work.

 

How have both shelter-in-place measures and reduction of business activity impacted the region’s energy needs?

 

It’s too early to understand the full impact of the coronavirus on our business operations. However, there are a few things that are obvious given the current circumstances. More energy is being consumed by residential customers and less in the commercial spaces – especially hotels and the tourism industry. For our residential customers, keeping the power on is more important than ever. We know business owners are operating from home, employees are working remotely and many are teaching their children at home as well. Even a brief interruption can cause a huge disruption to what some customers may feel is an already stressful situation.

Right now, we are focused on continuing to deliver the reliable power customers and communities need while helping to protect the health and safety of those we serve and our employees.

I am proud of the work our 3,800 Duke Energy Florida employees do to make sure our customers’ lights stay on, our hospitals are powered up and important food supplies stay cooled. Now more than ever, we feel a heightened sense of urgency because our customers and communities are counting on us to deliver the reliable service they expect. That’s why you will see us out in communities, continuing to respond to power outages and completing essential work.  

Duke Energy works with local Emergency Operation Centers to develop a critical customer list that includes hospitals, emergency rooms and other medical facilities. We have proactively been checking the feeders – which are the backbone of our system – to be sure these critical lines have reduced risk of an outage impacting the critical facilities that our customers need. 

To protect the communities we serve, we’re asking our essential workers in the field or operating power plants to maintain safe distances and use enhanced protective gear. If they need to interact with a customer, they will follow strict CDC guidance, which we are closely monitoring for developments.  

We are also implementing worker screening measures (including temperature checks), enforcing social distancing, restricting certain areas of power plants, increasing CDC disinfectant cleanings between and during work shifts, staggering start times, adding physical barriers, placing some workers on-call and having others work remotely, and implementing a no-visitors policy.  

Our business continuity plans have contingencies to sequester certain employees at plant sites and other critical facilities, however we are not sequestering employees at this time.

We want our customers to know Duke Energy is working hard 24/7 to deliver this essential service during this critical time.

 

Duke Energy temporarily suspended disconnections for nonpayment and waived late payment fees effective March 21. How has the community since responded to this initiative? 

Many of our customers are facing economic challenges. We want to help relieve the financial burden on our communities. In mid-March, the company stopped service disconnections for unpaid bills and waived returned check and late payments fees for all customers. On April 28, The Florida Public Service Commission approved our plan to significantly reduce customers’ bills for the May 2020 billing cycle by giving the annual fuel savings in a single bill. Traditionally, these fuel savings would be refunded over the following year. A typical residential customer will see a decrease of nearly 21% on May’s bill. Commercial and industrial customers will see significant savings ranging from approximately 20% to 45%.  

However, hot weather and additional time at home, can mean more energy consumption and could result in higher bills. We strongly encourage customers to use many of the tools we provide to help them manage their usage and to pay what they can to avoid building up a large balance that may be harder to pay off later. If customers are struggling to pay bills, we have a variety of programs to help, including our Florida Energy Neighbor Fund duke-energy.com/FLNeighbor, or please contact us at duke-energy.com. For those who are fortunate enough to be in a position to give, we would ask you to consider a donation to the Energy Neighbor Fund. The dollars go to agencies that help customers pay any utility bill.

The Duke Energy Foundation also announced $1 million in COVID-19 response and education grants. The company’s $450,000 COVID-19-related grants address immediate social service and hunger relief needs resulting from the virus pandemic. In addition, the Duke Energy Foundation recently granted $550,000 to 22 Florida-based organizations to support energy, engineering and environmental educational initiatives. Given the COVID-19 crisis, the Foundation has also provided each organization with the option to use the funds to address unforeseen operational challenges.

 

What has the transition to remote work been like for Duke Energy?

Our IT team has taken steps to expand our bandwidth and prepare our technology systems, including adding more remote connections and conference line capacity.  Corporate-wide, we have been able to support approximately 18,000 employees working remotely, that includes 90% of our call center staff. We’ve been using new technologies to keep in touch and stay connected. 

Scammers target victims year-round but often hit hardest when people are vulnerable. So, we’ve seen an increase in phishing scams, in addition to phone scams targeting our customers. Be aware of scammers, threatening disconnection of service and asking for immediate payment over the phone. Duke Energy never asks for personal information over the phone or demands payment using money orders or gift cards. And remember, Duke Energy has stopped service disconnections for unpaid bills.

We are already evaluating the best way to transition back into our more traditional workplace, but also evaluate what we’ve learned. We do measure, for example, our customer care center call response performance. There have been some areas such as the call center, that have stood out as doing extraordinarily well during these challenging times. We have a lot to evaluate and consider as we move forward. Each situation may be different and require a different response in the future. There will be great lessons learned, both to replicate and improve, that we’ll take away from this response.

 

How do you see the Florida region emerging from this pandemic?

I am on the Florida Governor’s Re-Open Florida Task Force Industry Working Group Related to Administrative, Education, Information & Technology, Manufacturing, Mining, Utilities and Wholesale. We are working closely with the Governor’s Office to consider the best ways to reopen Florida and its businesses. The task force is focusing on short-, medium- and long-term plans. There are multiple groups made up of local and state elected members, as well as business representatives working on a plan. Our goal is to determine how this will be accomplished with the health and safety of Floridians as the priority.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit: 

www.duke-energy.com

Federal, state govts rally to help homeless during COVID-19 outbreak

Federal, state govts rally to help homeless during COVID-19 outbreak

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read  — Since March, shelter-in-place measures have become the norm across the nation, shuttering nonessential businesses, schools and public gathering spaces. While the majority of people transitioned to a new way of life during the quarantine, including remote work and distance learning, the U.S homeless population risks COVID-19 infection as they lack access to testing and basic hygiene facilities, among other measures to combat infectious diseases. Additionally, for the homeless population, many are older adults or have underlying medical conditions, increasing the likelihood of contracting COVID-19. As such, states, municipalities, local health departments, housing authorities, among other institutions, have been working to meet the food, shelter, hygiene and testing needs of the homeless population.   

 

In South Florida, the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, in collaboration with various state and federal agencies, has been helping to protect sheltered and unsheltered homeless households and its staff in the face of the COVID-19 threat. “The Homeless Trust is proactive in engaging our housing and support service providers to offer guidance, assess needs and facilitate vital connections to local, state and federal resources,” said Trust Chairman Ronald L. Book in a press release. “Our preparations have to consider the fact that much of our population does not have a ‘home’ with which to self-quarantine; therefore, we have broader issues to consider. We will continue to work to ensure homeless households have access to shelter, care and food while doing all we can to mitigate the virus’ spread.”

As part of its outreach efforts, the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust is distributing hygiene, safety and food kits to unsheltered homeless persons throughout the county along with educational information. Outreach teams are taking temperatures of unsheltered homeless persons to pre-identify those with symptoms, among other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Pinellas County, the city of Clearwater has taken similar steps to help the homeless population of the region. As part of its mission, the city’s economic development department is focused on economic growth and the vitality of the community, which includes the homeless population. As such, the department is encouraging restaurants that have had to close or limit their operations temporarily to donate food to food banks, which then distribute the food to the most vulnerable segments of the community, Economic Development and Housing Director Denise Sanderson told Invest: Insights in an interview. “We have not seen a big increase in street level homelessness,” she said. “We have seen an increase in the presence of our homeless community. Primarily because we have had to close down our recreation centers and libraries.” As those facilities closed, the department pivoted to placing porta-potties and mobile shower units throughout the city to help the homeless community stay clean during this time. “To date, we have not had any cases, at least known to us, where COVID-19 has affected the homeless population.” Sanderson said. 

In Orlando, the shelters are preparing for an influx of homeless people. Shelters are down beds because social distancing precautions require separation of beds, Spectrum News reported. Shelters are concerned with bringing in people who may have the virus. “Right now we have a campus that is fairly safe. How do we bring people on without introducing that,” John Hearn, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, told the news outlet. Hearn’s shelter has been screening everyone before they enter the campus. The shelter set up isolation areas for people showing symptoms. This move, along with social distancing measures, cost the shelter close to 50 beds, Spectrum News reported. His shelter has increased the distribution of meals to three times a day and still has open beds available, according to the news outlet. 

At the federal level, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion funding package aimed at protecting the population, industries and businesses from the impact of the coronavirus, set aside more than $12 billion to help the homeless population and those who serve them. Community Solutions, a nonprofit organization focused on ending homelessness, detailed the portion of the CARES act aimed at helping those experiencing homelessness. The Department of Housing and Urban Development would divvy up the funds for Emergency Solutions Grants to assist homeless shelters and outreach workers who keep people who are homeless safer from coronavirus, different rent assistance programs, and other assistance programs aimed at the elderly, Native Americans, and people with AIDS, among other initiatives, according to Community Solutions. Federal, state and local agencies must work together to optimize resources and help for the homeless population, the nonprofit wrote on its website. “While we are pleased that our federal lawmakers provided this needed fiscal relief, we need to ensure that people experiencing homelessness, and those who serve them, continue to be supported as state and local governments work to administer funds and in any forthcoming stimulus package, Community Solutions said. “Following the injection of this stimulus funding, state and local governments must focus on allocating this new funding to protect people experiencing homelessness and homeless response staff, and limit inflow into health care and hospital systems. This includes ensuring people experiencing homelessness — and the people helping them — have immediate access to housing, health and safety training, personal protective equipment, facilities for hand-washing, medical treatment, testing options and ultimately, safe places to quarantine.”

 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.centralfloridahomeless.org/

http://www.homelesstrust.org/

https://www.myclearwater.com/government/city-departments/economic-development-housing

https://community.solutions/covid-19-and-homelessness/

Florida Polytechnic University navigates through COVID-19

Florida Polytechnic University navigates through COVID-19

By: Max Crampton- Thomas

2 min read April 2020As the coronavirus reduced daily activity to only essential services, educational institutions were forced to transition at a moment’s notice into a virtual setting as shelter-in-place measures and social distancing became commonplace. Entire curriculums, testing, labs, and even physical education in some cases, transitioned into an online classroom setting as teachers and students of all grade levels resumed their education under the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

These risk-management decisions stressed and challenged the infrastructure of universities, colleges, and schools throughout the nation, while at the same time creating opportunities for innovation in the educational landscape. Although fully online classes are a temporary measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, and as local, state and national governments consider what a reopened economy may look like, educational systems alike are being forced to mitigate the challenges and innovate their educational practices and offerings via learning innovation and digitalization.

In Lakeland, Florida Polytechnic University, an institution solely focused on STEM education, pivoted to online learning quickly and carefully. “We made the transition much faster than anyone could have imagined. As a new university, we did not have an infrastructure in place for online classes, but nonetheless we were able to make the transition,” President Randy Avent told Invest: Insights via a virtual interview. “The biggest challenge was getting into a flow and using the software. We had to make a number of software purchases and get them running and get the student integrated. By far and large, it is going  much better than we expected,” he said. 

Under a COVID-19 landscape, tuition-dependent institutions are among the most vulnerable as students are liable to put their education plans on pause as they grapple with loss of employment and income. Colleges and universities with strong endowments and alumni contributions will likely survive the impact of COVID-19, but declines in revenue and increases in costs will likely loom for the coming academic years. Declining revenues could stifle innovation as institutions reprioritize budgets and offerings. 

However, a life post-COVID-19 may be ripe with opportunities for innovation and further streamlining of classes. COVID-19 helped destigmatize fully online learning. Moving forward, educational leaders will likely see online education as more than a source for extra revenues. Instead, online education will likely become an integral part of institutional resilience and academic continuity. Educational institutions will have to rethink how they plan for, fund, and market online learning. More unified institutions will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, as online courses and student support functions become more centralized and integrated into existing academic structures and processes. 

For Florida Polytechnic University, there is an opportunity to use blended learning to teach a mixture of hard and soft skills, while also innovating their lab offerings. As part of their strong STEM curriculum, the university places a keen focus on teaching students a mixture of leadership skills that include communication, collaboration, and reliability that are desirable to employers, Avent said. “With this abrupt move to remote instruction, I think that we are exploring how we do all those things. One of the things that we also have as an engineering school is labs, and labs are very hard to do remotely,” he said. “It is one of those things that is forcing us to do blended models, where we do some instruction online and some instruction face to face. I think innovation is on how you do labs online and teach those leadership skills.”

Additionally, it is possible that online learning goes truly global as colleges and universities expand their student base to allow for more international students who may never see the inside of a physical campus. 

The lasting impact of COVID-19 to the educational sector remains to be seen. For the time being, it is likely that students will finish the spring semester and potentially the 2019-2020 school year from the comfort of their homes. As educators prepare for summer and fall semesters, they will have to contend with the challenges and opportunities of educating students in a post-COVID-19 world.       

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:https://floridapoly.edu/ 

To see the full interview with Florida Polytechnic University President Randy Avent, visit: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R22lng9yxAc&feature=emb_title

https://www.capitalanalyticsassociates.com/invest-insights/

South Jersey and Philadelphia transition into online learning

South Jersey and Philadelphia transition into online learning

By: Felipe Rivas

2 min read April 2020As the coronavirus reduced daily activity to only essential services, educational institutions were forced to transition at a moment’s notice into a virtual setting as shelter-in-place measures and social distancing became commonplace. Entire curriculums, testing, labs, and even physical education in some cases, transitioned into an online classroom setting as teachers and students of all grade levels resumed their education under the COVID-19 pandemic. 

These risk-management decisions stressed and challenged the infrastructure of universities, colleges, and schools throughout the nation, while at the same time creating opportunities for innovation in the educational landscape. Although fully online classes are a temporary measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, and as local, state and national governments consider what a reopened economy may look like, educational systems alike are being forced to mitigate the challenges and innovate their educational practices and offerings via learning innovation and digitalization.

In the Philadelphia region, Neumann University transitioned quickly into an online learning setting thanks to close to two years of prior preparation. For the last 24 months, the university has been expanding its online and remote learning capabilities, President Chris Domes told Invest: Insights in a virtual interview. “Our faculty were well-prepared. Our students work off of their devices and their phones, they already live in a virtual world socially, and now they get to live in a virtual world academically,” Domes said. In similar fashion, in New Jersey, the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, was preparing for a shift in the educational landscape as early as February. In February, the university created an emergency operation center as part of its risk-management strategy, school of nursing Dean Donna Nickitas told Invest: Insights in a virtual interview. “By the time we got to spring break, we knew we were going to have to make some quick changes,” Nickitas said. The nursing school quickly notified students if they needed resources like computers, webcams, and access to remote learning software.

Under the COVID-19 landscape, tuition-dependent institutions are among the most vulnerable as students are liable to put their education plans on pause as they grapple with loss of employment and income. Colleges and universities with strong endowments and alumni contributions will likely survive the impact of COVID-19, but declines in revenue and increases in costs will likely loom for the coming academic years. Declining revenues could stifle innovation as institutions reprioritize budgets and offerings. 

However, a life post-COVID-19 may be ripe with opportunities for innovation and further streamlining of classes. COVID-19 helped destigmatize fully online learning. Moving forward, educational leaders will likely see online education as more than a source for extra revenues. Instead, online education will likely become an integral part of institutional resilience and academic continuity. Educational institutions will have to rethink how they plan for, fund, and market online learning. More unified institutions will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, as online courses and student support functions become more centralized and integrated into existing academic structures and processes. 

After student outreach efforts, Neumann University found that close to 80 percent of its students were adjusting well to the remote learning setting. The university is working to assist all of its students with resources like tutoring, student engagement activities, counseling, and more. The feedback gathered from students will help determine what innovations and changes the institution needs to make for the future, according to Domes. “We are getting initial feedback from our students and are utilizing that to help us understand that moving forward if we remain in this status for some time what are we learning and how might we make this more appropriate for students in the future so that we make sure we are adapting along the way,” he said. For Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden, the school is preparing to continue to groom the next generation of nurses and healthcare professionals. “What we have learned is that we need to be prepared, Nickitas said. Though summer and fall enrollments figures will likely fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nickitas hopes the essentiality of nurses and healthcare professionals will motivate more students to explore a career in medicine. “I do hope that because of the kind of publicity that TV stations and media are giving nurses, that people understand not only what nurses do, but what they know. Hopefully, that will resonate with some individuals and inspire them to say, ‘I want to make a difference, that is what I want to do.’”

Additionally, it is possible that online learning goes truly global as colleges and universities expand their student base to allow for more international students who may never see the inside of a physical campus. 

The lasting impact of COVID-19 to the educational sector remains to be seen. For the time being, it is likely that students will finish the spring semester and potentially the 2019-2020 school year from the comfort of their homes. As educators prepare for summer and fall semesters, they will have to contend with the challenges and opportunities of educating students in a post-COVID-19 world.       

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://nursing.camden.rutgers.edu/

https://www.neumann.edu/

To see our full interview with the education leaders and more, visit:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=42&v=V9oL3kIX-NI&feature=emb_title

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8wU5yYFccw&feature=emb_title

https://www.capitalanalyticsassociates.com/invest-insights/