One year later: How Microsoft is supporting communities in Washington state through the pandemic
The impact of Covid-19 is being felt in every household, changing the way we live our lives. The pandemic continues to reinforce the drive for cooperation between communities, governments and businesses in order to combat the threat.
In April, we looked at how Microsoft responded to the pandemic in its home state through efforts like donating protective equipment, making boxed lunches for families and using technology to better understand the spread of the virus.
Now, nearly a year later, we’re sharing six ways Microsoft is pulling together with the community to lend a hand to fellow Washingtonians in 2021.
Microsoft and others responded to a call by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to help bring the Covid-19 vaccine to as many people as possible.
In a press conference in January, Gov. Inslee set a goal of vaccinating 45,000 Washingtonians per day. Dr. Umair Shah, state secretary of health, described the goal as “a huge undertaking – no one can do it alone.”
As part of this community effort, Microsoft is partnering with local hospitals to relocate their vaccine operations to its Redmond campus to help reduce the burden on health care facilities and contribute to the regional need to vaccinate underserved and highest-risk populations in east King County.
Microsoft President Brad Smith said in the same press conference: “This is not going to be a site for Microsoft employees; this is going to be a site for people in the community.”
Further, Microsoft’s AI for Health program has partnered with the Washington State Department of Health to create a vaccine dashboard to provide data on vaccine delivery across the state as well as a Vaccine Locator tool to help eligible Washingtonians find a provider and sign up to receive the vaccine.
The Covid-19 dashboard from Washington’s Department of Health and Microsoft’s AI for Health shows progress toward Gov. Inslee’s vaccination goal and is updated on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
[READ MORE: How sharing data is helping fight the spread of Covid-19 in the UK]
The disruption to education experienced by young people during the pandemic is particularly worrying. Smith wrote in a December blog: “As serious as the impact on students is the effect on many other parts of our communities. Covid-19 has provided a powerful reminder of the importance of our state’s teachers and the indispensable role that our schools play as central community institutions.”
Microsoft is making technology available for schools to track and report testing data within their districts to aid in safe reopening. Alongside, there will be donations of PPE and cleaning supplies to those schools that need additional resources.
Microsoft believes that safely reopening schools should be a priority. As Smith outlined in that same blog: “The learning loss for students is substantial and now well-documented, with some groups losing a significant portion of a year’s progress in reading and math.”
[READ MORE: Promoting trusted information in response to Covid-19]
In 2020, Microsoft contributed $1 million to launch the Seattle Foundation’s Covid-19 Response Fund. With other donors in the community also making contributions, that fund has grown to $28.8 million.
The Seattle Foundation Fund awards grants to community organizations on the front-line helping the region’s most vulnerable people. It aims to complement the valiant work of public health officials, not replace it.
In March, during the earliest days of the pandemic, the fund dispersed a first round of grants to 128 nonprofits in Washington that were navigating the immediate impact of Covid-19. That support has continued through additional grant-awarding phases.
Beyond its donation to the Seattle Foundation, Microsoft has also provided more than $98 million of assistance to nonprofits in Washington state since Covid-19 emerged and plans to commit an additional $60 million in support of local nonprofits by July.
[READ MORE: Microsoft to join White House-led consortium to fight COVID-19]
With the pandemic exacerbating economic difficulties for many people, the need for affordable housing is even more pressing. Halting evictions during the pandemic helped keep many families in their homes but serves as a reminder that most families spend more on housing than any other expense. The need for affordable housing and rental assistance will likely grow once state and national eviction moratoriums are lifted.
Microsoft provided United Way of King County’s Home Base program with a $5 million grant for eviction prevention in January 2019. This past year, Home Base was able to quickly pivot to provide rental assistance and will continue to evolve to help keep people in their homes.
Swift action is also important to provide additional housing to serve the growing population. As Jane Broom, Senior Director at Microsoft Philanthropies, explained: “A common barrier to creating more affordable housing is the ability to quickly secure financing for the period between the construction and project completion.”
In August, Microsoft announced it would invest $6.8 million in the Together Center project, which will help create 280 units of affordable housing in a former strip mall in Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft has its headquarters.
The funds made available by Microsoft form part of a loan pool that enables capital to be accessed in a fast and effective manner. The Together Center development used that pool to help secure financing to begin the project.
This is part of a larger $65 million investment to create 1,000 new affordable housing units for greater Seattle, and is an example of how Microsoft’s $750 million affordable housing commitment is having an impact.
The development of vaccines for Covid-19 has been a watershed moment in the fight against the pandemic. But more vaccine research will be needed.
Over the past year, Microsoft has worked with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, a global health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine. Support from Microsoft’s AI for Health program is helping the institute forecast the pandemic and mobilize resources where and when they are needed most.
As lockdown orders kicked in last March, Microsoft announced in a blog post its commitment to continue paying all hourly service providers their regular wage despite reduced service needs.
And, in a December company blog, Smith underlined Microsoft’s continued support of hourly workers: “We currently expect that it will take until early July 2021 for our campuses to return to a full presence. Regardless of the exact date, we will provide these onsite hourly workers their full wages until the date of their return.”
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