There’s no doubt that most of us across the Puget Sound region are anxious to put the difficulties of 2020 behind us. As we approach the end of December, we look forward to the new year with a mixture of optimism and concern – optimism about spreading vaccines and concerns about the serious challenges that will unfortunately follow us into the first months of 2021. Covid-19 cases are on the rise and we feel it in our hospitals, our homes and in the local economy. Schools remain closed across most of Washington state, and despite the heroic work of educators, research tells us that distance learning can’t replace in-person instruction. This is creating a troubling learning loss. While these challenges are daunting, every day at Microsoft we see successes around the world that give us hope. We believe that our region can and should continue to pull together, support our neighbors and pursue a path that restarts the activities that fuel our economy, develop our children and enrich our daily lives.
As our community heads into the 10th month of Covid-related shutdowns and restrictions, we must move swiftly to reignite the local economy and ensure the safety of those who are key to the region’s recovery. As part of Microsoft’s continued commitment to the community that we call home, today we are announcing an additional commitment of more than $110 million towards our region’s recovery and, when the current Covid surge is under control, the safe reopening of its schools.
Here’s what we’re pledging today:
We will continue to support our hourly workers impacted by Covid-19. In March, we announced that we would continue to pay the hourly service providers on our campuses their regular pay even while their full services were not needed. Since that time, Microsoft has spent more than $110 million in Washington state to pay these wages.
As we head into the holidays, we want these workers and their families to know that we will continue to stand by their side. Today, we commit that we will continue to pay all our onsite vendor hourly service providers their regular pay until they can return to our campuses. In Puget Sound, this includes individuals who staff our lobbies, run our cafes, drive our shuttles, and support our on-site tech and audio-visual needs. We estimate that between Dec. 1, 2020 and Mar. 31, 2021, this will provide locally more than $50 million of additional wages.
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.
We will continue to provide expanded support for nonprofits in Washington state. Even in the best of times, non-profit organizations play an indispensable role in supporting the social safety net and every other aspect of local communities in our state. The Covid crisis has made the role of these organizations even more critical. So far this year, Microsoft has provided more than $98 million of assistance to nonprofits in Washington state, including roughly $67 million in cash and $31 million in technology, in-kind support, special discounts and our Covid-19 response school lunch program.
We commit today that we will sustain this high level of support for nonprofits in our state. This will include ongoing cash grants and in-kind support. We currently project that we will provide roughly $60 million of additional support for local nonprofits between Dec. 1, 2020 and Jul. 15, 2021.
We will provide technology and in-kind support to help safely reopen the local schools in 2021. As the Covid crisis reaches into its 10th month, the toll on our state’s students far exceeds what most people anticipated when schools went to remote learning in April. 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. School-based relationships promote the social and emotional well-being that are key to learning. The challenges for younger and lower-income students are especially pronounced.
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. They are essential in meeting family support, nutrition and childcare needs. The continuing closure of schools increasingly threatens the ability of working parents – especially mothers – to remain in the workforce.
At the same time these impacts have grown more dire, advances in understanding the science of Covid-19 have shown that it is possible, with the right precautions, to reopen schools safely, especially for the youngest learners. While this week with high infection rates is clearly not the right moment to restart in -person learning, the science now tells us that it is the right time to accelerate the planning for kindergarten through 5th Grade classes to reopen in February, if the correct safety measures are put in place. This requires a concerted effort across the community, and we will take new steps to help:
- Microsoft will provide a technology solution that will enable Washington state schools to better track and report Covid-19 related testing data within their district boundaries. This solution will be free and made available to all Washington state schools districts. This will ensure that schools can report to parents and teachers alike current information about testing and infections, thereby providing the transparency needed for the community to remain well-informed about critical health information.
This solution builds on an application we created for the state of Washington to track PPE and beds for all 104 hospitals across the state. It also builds on our work with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the country with approximately 700,000 students.
While we help schools to reopen, we will also continue to support classes that interact online. We’re committed to providing the best possible products and support to help teachers engage with students remotely, including support and products that are available to all schools in Washington state.
- Microsoft will donate PPE and cleaning supplies to schools that need additional resources to reopen safely. It is critical that we reopen our schools in line with state guidelines. This will complement the state’s newly announced $3 million set-aside funds to implement health and safety protocols. Microsoft is prepared to donate PPE and cleaning supplies to help any school district in our state that needs additional supplies to re-open. These will be distributed through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).
- We support the Washington Department of Health’s updated Covid-19 guidelines for in-person learning announced by Governor Inslee on Dec. 16. These updated Covid-19 health standards for reopening schools keep pace with advances in the scientific understanding on case numbers, hospitalization rates and capacity, and Covid-19 case positivity test rates. We are also pleased to see the test positivity goals are now in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). These new goals also build on the learning from research at the Institute of Disease Modeling that show that schools can reopen safely, especially at the K-5 level, even when there are more positive tests in a community, if they follow the right precautions.
- We support prioritizing vaccines for teachers. We recognize that Governor Inslee and the leaders at the Department of Health will need to make the critical decisions about the precise order of who can be vaccinated and when. It remains vital to prioritize critical healthcare workers and other people who are especially vulnerable as the state distributes the first 400,000 vaccine doses in December. But we believe that if teachers, school administrators and staff in higher risk categories at the K-5 level were eligible to get a Covid vaccine in January, it would help these schools take a critical step towards reopening more quickly.
Today’s commitments bring Microsoft’s hourly worker commitment and local nonprofit support amounts to approximately $250 million in regional support – part of a decades-long commitment to our region that will continue. We know we are not alone in these efforts and we acknowledge the hard work and difficult choices made by parents and teachers, school administrators, and public health and other government officials.
In addition to continued action from our state’s elected officials, Congress needs to do its part. We will continue to advocate for a robust federal stimulus funding bill that includes initiatives such as wage relief and help for small businesses.
Washington state was one of the first to be impacted by Covid-19, and we acted quickly and decisively to respond. We now need to come together once again to chart a clear and unified recovery path that advances the shared economic opportunity and future of our region. We stand ready to partner with government leaders, school districts and the business community to start the new year with a clear plan of what we can do together.