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The Critical Points: How to have a positive impact during COVID-19

March 13, 2020
7 min read
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Each week in his column “The Critical Points,” TPG Loyalty and Engagement Editor Richard Kerr presents his opinion on a loyalty program, card product or recent news that he believes is overlooked, unsung or the result of groupthink taking mass opinion in a direction with which he doesn’t agree. His goal is not necessarily to convince you to agree with his position but rather to induce critical thought for each of the topics and positions he covers.

The worldwide COVID-19 situation has escalated significantly over the past week. I've been in Manhattan, Atlanta and home in Central Georgia this week where I've witnessed escalating anxiety among friends, family and coworkers. On Wednesday night, I watched the Oval Office address with my wife, followed shortly thereafter by the announcement the NBA had suspended the rest of the season.

By the time this column publishes, I expect several more previously unfathomable events will have taken place — ones that will continue to instill fear, anxiety and depression into millions. During this time, it's easy to look at our own situations and focus on potential disaster scenarios for our own medical and economic situations.

Today, I'd encourage us all to look outward at how we can help our communities in our own unique ways in this unprecedented environment. Looking to help others often takes our mind off our own reality.

Here are a few ways to have a positive impact during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Be your community travel expert and offer help

TPG readers are some of the most educated travelers in the world. If you're regularly on the road, you possess knowledge that many others find perplexing and overwhelming. Put together a group e-mail, send some texts or post on social media offering help to those with upcoming travel plans. Your friends, family and community members who aren't road warriors and don't understand the ins and outs of the travel industry will appreciate it.

Volunteer at food banks

In our local community, one of the biggest concerns with school closures relates to children who rely on district-provided meals. For some families, free/reduced breakfast and lunch programs during the week offer a valuable lifeline for their kids, and if schools close, families with limited means may face hardship. Some parents will be forced to either pay for childcare or skip shifts at work, actions which will only exacerbate the problem of lack of food at home.

Last night, my wife, son and I volunteered at a local nonprofit that specifically feeds children in our local school system. Their concern for the children here if our local schools close was palpable. We packed 750 extra bags of food for local children in our school system. If you have the ability to donate to your local food banks or manpower to help them, now is a great time to do so.

Phone the elderly

The elderly and those with underlying health problems are most susceptible to COVID-19 and have the highest death rates. They're also often the most lonely, overlooked and concerned citizens in our community. If you have elderly neighbors, parishioners or community members, give them a call and check in to see if they need anything. If not, take some time to just chat about other things going on in the world.

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Medical professionals caution against visiting these folks in person to minimize the risk of exposing them to the virus, but they may still need something. Take all the precautions necessary and head to the grocery store or run other necessary errands. And if not, a simple phone call to say hello and to let them know you're thinking of them will have an incredibly positive impact, one that we currently can't understand.

Be polite and friendly

Take a moment and consider what it is like to currently work as an airline or hotel call center agent. These folks have been dealing with an incomprehensible volume of stressed and anxious customers, who in many cases have no other outlet to vent frustrations. The agent on the other end of the phone line (unfortunately) often takes the brunt of this anger.

Consider the Aer Lingus gate agent at New York-JFK Wednesday night who was trying to board a flight immediately after the president's address. This poor gent knew as little as all of us did, and unfortunately was the customer-facing employee:

I think he handled it well, and customers didn't seem to get upset at him. There's an important lesson here. We can all be polite and courteous to our fellow humans during this outbreak, a situation the likes of which we've never faced. Go as far as to practice breathing techniques if you're feeling particularly angry, and realize when it's time to find a healthy avenue for your frustrations not directed at anyone else.

Staying calm and being empathetic and understanding is the least we can all do.

Follow medical precautions

I flew home from New York-LaGuardia to Atlanta on Wednesday and witnessed three individuals leaving the men's room in Terminal B without washing their hands. It takes a certain kind of aloofness to do that on a normal basis, but given the current situation, it displayed a new level of ignorance I didn't know existed. Life has to go on, so we should mitigate risk with proper medical precautions.

The guidance that we all need to follow is relatively simple:

  1. Routinely wash your hands for 20 seconds.
  2. Try to touch your face as little as possible.
  3. Cover your sneezes and coughs.
  4. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  5. Stay home if you don't feel well.
  6. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

It's a shared responsibility to do what we can to minimize the spread of COVID-19 — not to mention lower the risk of catching the disease yourself.

Don't spread misinformation

There are all kinds of studies, charts, graphs and reports from all over the web. Many may be scientifically accurate, while many are not. While it's responsible for us to sort through all of these and draw our own conclusions, it isn't helpful to share every article we find across all social media channels and group texts — especially when it may contain misleading (or downright inaccurate) information. That only adds to the confusion.

Be cognizant of what you share and how you choose to share information.

Bottom line

We all need to remain as positive as possible during these trying times. Life, work, fun and even travel will go on, and we can all add to the positivity and recovery with a few of the actions above. Now isn't a time to be divisive; it's a time to come together on the proverbial ship of humanity and positively affect those around us in any way we can. Volunteer, offer help, wash your hands and reach out to those in need — bring some positivity and this, too, shall pass.

Featured image by ANA's A380 smiles big for the camera (Photo courtesy of Airbus / ANA)