Things change fast these days. It was just a few weeks ago that I returned to the United States from a trip to Europe (read about it here). At the time, parts of Europe were beginning to shut down (in particular, Italy), and certainly, the coronavirus and its possible effects were all over the news, and on everyone’s minds. But in most ways, life seemed to go on as usual. People moved about freely. Schools, shops, museums, and entertainment venues were open. I could traverse countries via air and rail without impediment.

Fast-forward three weeks and the reality looks markedly different. Shelter-in-place orders of various kinds are in effect in many countries by now, and in the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, it means everyone needs to stay at home, except to take care of essential needs, such as getting groceries and picking up medications. It mandates social distancing — keeping a 6ft distance between yourself and others — if you have to go out.

As the shelter-in-place order was broadcast, my first feelings were unease and confusion, worry and a strong need to make some kind of a plan. My thoughts were spinning: “what does this actually mean for me and my family and friends, what can, and can’t I do, what does it mean for society at large, and most pressingly, where can I learn more?”

As the new reality of life in the Bay Area has been slowly setting in, I keep thinking of how important it is to have clear guidelines. I think about what the information flow surrounding the coronavirus has looked like until now — there has certainly been a lot of information output, but much of it has been disjointed and unclear.

I firmly believe that the lack of clear guidelines and cohesive messaging is contributing to the unease people feel, it promotes some of the chaos we see in stores, for example, and most importantly it puts people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

Working at a company where supporting the needs of the globally mobile is at the center of what we do, the importance of having effective duty of care measures in place has long been one of our core messages. And this moment in time makes it abundantly clear how important it is to have a plan for emergencies and trusted channels for communication. This moment in time underscores the need for clear guidelines on all ends — in order to aid the people looking for help and answers, as well as those tasked with providing help and answers.

Emergencies come at different scales and in different forms, there is no way of knowing exactly what’s going to hit, how it’s going to hit or when. There are, however, measures to take to mitigate the effects of unforeseen events, to make sure people know where to turn and having a chain of command that can confidently execute the pieces of the plan.

As someone who has loved ones spread out over the country and over the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about what the coming weeks, or more likely months, will look like. Knowing that I have no way of traveling to any of their locations, what happens if one of my family members across the globe falls seriously ill, what if my daughter on the other side of the country has an emergency? I’m trying to make a “duty of care plan” in my mind. I’m trying to sort out what actions I can take, what support system and safeguards I can put in place so that if any of the worst-case scenarios do happen, I at least have a roadmap to turn to. 

By: Felicia Shermis


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