When we entered into the COVID-19 crisis, government, business, NGOs and media in the U.S. were all operating from a trust deficit, as our 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reported. Respondents gave institutions low marks on partnership to solve tough societal challenges—there is little confidence that business, government, or NGOs are capable of or committed to partnering.
This is critical context for where we are today. To weather the pandemic—and as we face a mounting and dangerous wave of public panic—trust in institutions is fundamental. Partnership, as our data bears out, is what’s needed to get there. Specifically, trust in government to lead efforts to combat the virus jumps by nearly 30 points when paired with business.
In the last week, we’ve witnessed flashes of this cross-institutional partnership, of a kind not seen since World War II. We saw glimpses of its promise in the White House Rose Garden on March 13 when businesses like Quest Diagnostics*, Roche and CVS Health* announced their commitment to a dramatic scaling up of testing and test facilitation.
And in the last 48 hours there have been reports of GM, Ford, Tesla and others retooling to build much needed ventilators in shuttered plants. There’s been talk of hotel chains turning empty properties into recovery wards for non-critical coronavirus patients. And we’ve heard word of government engaging tech leaders to find a way to trace and ultimately combat the spread of COVID-19 – a notion that likely requires a trusted institution outside of government and business to play data arbiter. All of these ideas come with great complexity and unforeseen challenges. But the trendline holds promise.
As every new media report underscores, in the U.S. we are woefully, worryingly behind —from tests, to beds, to protective gear for those on the frontlines. We are playing catchup with countries whose governments lived and learned through SARS. At this moment, hospitals are running short on the most basic supplies we never thought we’d deplete. Organ transplants and cancer treatments wait on hold, as hospitals prepare for the coming surge that we already know we can’t meet.
As we face the next wave of capacity building, we have to unleash the full potential of business’ ability to scale with speed.
Yet, it’s not just partnership between business and government—but between, among and across all institutions that’s needed and emerging. For instance, an idea advanced by media for government-backed, no-interest bridge loans (contingent on keeping 90 percent of their workforce employed at the same pay) is getting a close look from lawmakers.
To be sure, the only real cure to the human and economic suffering we are experiencing—and that we have yet to endure—is through a vaccine, antiretroviral or even immunotherapy that science will deliver. Our scientists and healthcare workers deserve every recognition and gratitude we can offer. (It is not a surprise that trust in scientists and experts is at an all-time high.)
But as we wait for that cure, for business especially who brings the scale and speed that has never been needed more, this is a moment. It’s a once-in-a-century ask: to show that, when partnered with government, it can bend the trajectory of the brutal human and economic toll of pandemic.
We have the capacity to alter the trendline of trust—but far more important at this moment in time, to flatten the curve.
Russell Dubner is President and CEO of Edelman, U.S.