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Lessons From Tornadoes Help a Community Combat Covid



This article is part of our latest Learning special report, which focuses on ways that remote learning will shape the future.

To grasp the mind-set in rural Lawrence County, Tenn., consider this: After facing two tornadoes in February without warnings from the National Weather Service, residents in May installed their own Doppler radar atop a 75-foot pedestal at the local radio station.

Now, they feed data to the weather service. More critically, said Ben Luna, meteorologist and station manager at WLX Radio in Lawrenceburg (pop. 10,986), who is leading the fund-raising effort to finish paying the $360,000 cost, school officials and residents now get hyperlocal warnings of severe weather approaching the area’s rolling fields and cluster of city streets. Early warning, Mr. Luna said, “increases the likelihood of saving lives.”

The four-foot domed radar is useless against the storm no one can see: Covid-19. But the same resourcefulness, hunger for pinpoint data and communal spirit that spurred it are giving Lawrence County schools a shot at navigating this wild academic year.

As the pandemic has spread, much has been made of the disparity in resources between urban and rural communities, but a recent visit to Lawrence County showed what can be done.

There is nothing flashy here. In this county, where school board meetings begin with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, Michael Adkins, director of the Lawrence County School System, whose 6,500 students live across 618 square miles, focused planning — and public health practices — on getting as much in-person learning as possible.

In Tennessee, the governor declined to mandate wearing masks. The Lawrence County executive followed suit. But Mr. Adkins was clear: Students, teachers and staff must wear them. “It is part of our dress code,” he said. “My No. 1 goal is to have kids in school, so we will be wearing masks.”

Mr. Adkins made “M.D.S.,” for “Masks, Distancing, Sanitizing” the guide to reopening, and Mr. Luna created public service announcements that ran 10 times a day in July so families knew what to expect.

ImageStudents, teachers and staff at Lawrenceburg Public School in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., are required to wear masks. “It is part of our dress code,” the county school system’s director said.
Credit…Laura Pappano

Inside school buildings, social distancing markers dot shining waxed floors. Hand sanitizer is ubiquitous; masked elementary school students reflexively extended palms for a squirt during a library visit. (No browsing the shelves; students use their Chromebooks to search the catalog for books the librarian then retrieves.)

At the high schools, custodians wipe down door knobs between passing periods and sanitize buildings on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons. One-way hallways now often route students outdoors, then back inside to reach the next class.

School bus drivers keep seating charts (only family members may sit together) to aid in contact tracing. At the bus depot, drivers liked to gather for coffee in the morning, but “we had to cut that out,” said Josh Rogers, the transportation supervisor. He fears losing drivers or mechanics to Covid exposure in a district where buses are critical, with many students relying on them for 45-minute rides each way.

And there is a focus on data. Every day at 2 p.m. Jenny Golden, the district’s health coordinator, emails or walks from her office across a parking lot to Mr. Adkins’s office with the latest Covid counts at each of the 13 schools (the Lawrence County Health Department offers free weekday testing). Plus, the numbers of students and teachers in quarantine.

Credit…Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

The district has struggled to find ways to provide internet access in areas that barely have cellphone service, let alone broadband, which is critical for online learning. (Data from Broadband Now, a consumer research site, show that just 53 percent of residents have high-speed internet.)

The schools have been working on the problem since March, said Kenneth Hobbs, the district’s director of technology. “We had some ideas in the back of our minds, watching what was happening,” he said.

Teachers now download videos and assignments onto thumb drives (the schools bought 1,000). The district also put weatherproof internet hot spots at schools. But that can be a long drive.

Which is why it recently also fit 10 buses with Wi-Fi antennae, then found locations with electricity (like outdoor pavilions). Loretto Telecom (with CARES Act funding) is running cable so buses can drive up, connect and provide students internet access — should the district need to go completely remote.

School started on Aug. 10 cautiously, with 16 percent of students remote; others had been given a Monday-Tuesday or a Thursday-Friday in-person schedule, with off-days remote.

Through the first month, Covid cases were low. But as school was opening, Mr. Adkins said, “teachers being teachers, all hopped in a car to eat somewhere” after a meeting. The next day, one reported Covid symptoms, forcing all to quarantine.

“We lost five English teachers for close contact,” he said. When two students on the middle school volleyball team tested positive, the team was quarantined.

Nonetheless, the district stuck with its plan. In early September, at Lawrenceburg Public School, a first-grade teacher, Amanda Moore, masked up, led a live phonics lesson for eight students, wearing masks and sitting two to a table.

They bent over individual white boards, grasping markers bearing their names (there is no more sharing) and taking dictation. “How do I spell get?” asked Ms. Moore. “Sometimes in the South we say, ‘g-i-tt,’” she hinted. “So, you have to be careful because it is ‘guh-Eh-tt.’ ”

But the hybrid schedule is hard on teachers. “The first couple weeks were rough,” said Amanda Land, who teaches Algebra I at Lawrence County High School. She posts assignments online and, like many, also makes videos explaining lessons. (When I visited, she had just made one on solving inequalities.)

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As a Thursday-Friday student, Jacob Hughes, a Summertown High School senior, arrived late in the week, eager for class. But teachers seemed, he said, “a bit tired out and rightly so.” His classmate Kareena Mahaffey liked that the schedule let her work more hours as a personal shopper at the Kroger’s supermarket. Plus, three days of remote class let her “work at my own pace and not worry about being caught up with the other kids.”

While Mr. Adkins appreciated the public health benefit of the hybrid model, he feared it was not enough to keep younger students on track.

On Sept. 14, after a survey found that 74 percent of teachers favored an expanded schedule, the district changed course and began phasing in a four-day week. A planned Fair Day holiday (even though there is no fair this year) and fall break from Oct. 2 through Oct. 12 offered additional social distancing.

“If we go full speed and it doesn’t work, we won’t visit it again,” Mr. Adkins said.

As students started the four-day schedule, schools had fewer than 10 cases, but numbers in the county were rising. “They have a fair amount of community transmission,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, checking a Covid tracker on Sept. 22. “It is going to be challenging.”

Tight monitoring and the fall vacation may help, but Mr. Adkins knows they may have to go completely remote. Which is a huge challenge in places like Lawrence County.

In urban areas, families without high-speed internet can be handed a hot spot. But, those require a cell signal, which some “out in the boonies,” as one Summertown High School senior student put it, don’t even have. This has complicated the year for families like Jonathan Bradley’s.

Having his son, in second grade, and his daughter, in seventh, attend remotely “was actually the easiest decision.” His son had a heart transplant and is on immunosuppression drugs.

What’s tough is living in an area so rural that he is “grateful for the one to two bars on my cellphone.” Now, he and his wife shuttle their children to his father-in-law’s home, which has internet, to do schoolwork.

Credit…Laura Pappano

There is no doubt: This is going to be an on-again, off-again school year. Ms. Moore, the first-grade teacher, initially worried about students returning. She has asthma and recently lost her grandfather to Covid. But she also saw students without a lot of family support falling behind.

“I could see that gap growing, and I was beginning to panic about how we were going to make up so much lost time,” she said.

In late September, she had 19 in her classroom. There were no mask breaks; she barred students from touching things like the pencil sharpener. She kept her class separate from others, even on the playground. “I cannot let my guard down,” she said.

Students willingly complied. “They seem so happy just to be back, and in a routine,” said Ms. Moore. “Pray, clean, teach, repeat. That’s my motto right now.”


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3 questions Jeff Bezos asked before hiring someone for Amazon that everyone should consider



The ecommerce company has high hiring standards suggested by its own founder.

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October 22, 2020 3 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

  • Will you admire this person?
  • Will this person increase the average level of effectiveness of the group they enter?
  • In what area could this person be a superstar?

Would you like to work at Amazon or learn about the human resources of its founder? This will interest you. One of the company’s first employees said in a 1999 interview that Jeff Bezos was in charge of interviewing candidates and that this person should raise the hiring standards for the next applicant.

However, Bezos’s schedule became heavier with the growth of his company and of course he is no longer in charge of the human resources of the company, but through a letter written in 1998, he made clear the high standards of hiring that Amazon must have and three key questions for applicants.

According to Tom Popomaronis , in an article for CNBC , although these questions were written 22 years ago, they are timeless and should be taken into account by everyone, recruiters and candidates alike.

Image: Mandel Ngan | Getty Images

In his hiring meetings, Bezos would ask employees to answer these three questions before making a decision:

1. Will you admire this person?

“If you think about the people your life has admired, they are probably from whom you have been able to learn or take an example. For my part, I have always strived to only work with people I admire, and I encourage people here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely short to do otherwise, ”Bezos says in his letter .

2. Will this person increase the average level of effectiveness of the group they join?

“We want to fight against entropy. The bar has to go up continuously. I ask people to visualize the company 5 years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, “The standards are so high now, boy, I’m glad I walked in when I did!”

In this section, the founder of Amazon refers to the fact that they must always raise the hiring standards.

3. In what area could this person be a superstar?

“Many people have unique skills, interests and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. Often it is something that is not even related to their jobs ”. This must be taken into account by employers to improve the quality of the work environment.


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So, the Pandemic Sent Your Digital Transformation into Hyperdrive. What Now?



Most companies have had to accelerate technology adoption due to the pandemic. So where do we go from here?

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October 22, 2020 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Prior to Covid-19, readily discussed the necessity of and how it would change operations around the world. And while they saw these shifts as inevitable, many still took a cross-that-bridge-when-we-have-to approach.

Now, though, the bridge has been thrust underneath our feet. Entrepreneurs and executives find themselves facing a new reality where over half of all employed Americans (51 percent) are working from home in response to the pandemic. Digital transformation plans that were on the shelf or intended for later went into hyperdrive, and many were forced to put technologies into action in days when they’d been planning on having months — or even years. 

Related: Why Digital Transformation Is An Effective Crisis Response

What now?

Every company has to approach any kind of large shift with its own goals and resources in mind. But all leaders should employ the following four core strategies to build a future-forward environment and tackle accelerated digital transformation head-on.

1. Act like a startup

The it-has-to-work, no-frills way of thinking that allows entrepreneurs to get ventures off the ground is just as effective during major periods of change. Readopting the startup mindset will let you reevaluate your company through fresh eyes and with a healthy sense of greater urgency. 

Startup leaders focus on lean thinking/operation and quick product cycles. They also treat relationships as critical. They tap existing connections, but they also get out of their familiar networks and echo chambers, because they know they’ll need additional support and advocacy from people in a wide range of roles to reach their goals. So, cut as much as you can that’s not necessary, reach out, and don’t mess around. 

2. Adapt ahead of your competition

Shifting early can provide better long-term gains because your entire team has more time to reasonably prepare, practice, analyze, troubleshoot, and understand how to deliver the best service under the new circumstances. But perhaps most importantly, emerging as a disruptor allows you to be the one to establish new standards and best practices across a range of industries. Rather than fitting what others have already created the framework for, you get to build the framework yourself and pull others into a specific mindset and way of work. This kind of innovativeness and risk-taking is an important attribute of first movers to stay ahead of other firms as well as an important mechanism for companies to achieve a competitive advantage.

3. Transform your culture 

Digital transformation isn’t just about getting different technology systems or establishing a new infrastructure solely for the sake of efficiency and profits. The deeper purpose of digital transformation is to use that technology system or infrastructure to explore, do new things, and enable the best ideas to come to fruition for your customers’ end benefit

Roughly half of professionals (51 percent) view culture as holding them back when it comes to digital transformation, with 26 percent identifying issues like entrenched viewpoints as problematic. The more your team feels supported, connected, and able to explore, the easier it likely will be for them to embrace digital transformation confidently as a pathway for turning concepts into reality together. Ask yourself if you’re creating an environment that continuously sparks new ideas, delivers new skills, and promotes collaboration.

4. Navigate the new normal and define new ways of working

People can’t deliver or adapt well if they don’t even know that the expectations are. Clarify exactly what you want, what it means for both your company and industry and how that affects the typical workday. At the same time, make sure you give your team the resources and directions necessary to take each step. They should feel challenged rather than lost, and they should understand how to navigate the difficulties that might arise.

Related: Why You Should Speed Up Your Digital Transformation During the Crisis

Additional tips for a successful (and accelerated) digital transformation

Looking at the above four points, getting through a rapid digital transformation is much easier if your business structure, goals, people, and other elements support taking risks and moving at an accelerated pace for . Some perspectives on this offer the following five best practices:

  • Start from the top. Leaders should show they’re on board with the shifts and demonstrate faith in the team’s ability to adapt successfully. 

  • Make sure the change is necessary and desirable. Proper analysis and testing your ideas can ensure that they are fully discussed and make good business sense. That, in turn, makes shifts easier for your team to support.

  • Minimize disruption. Workers are more likely to feel good about digital transformation if they can continue to perform their daily roles successfully throughout the changes. 

  • Promote communication. Transparent, candid conversations help people feel valued and understand next steps.

  • View change as the norm, not the exception. Change is an ongoing process, so don’t try to give it a defined beginning or end.

All companies are technology companies to some degree. Leaders who embrace this fact are the ones who are in the best position to guide their businesses through digital transformation and, ultimately, to shape the world. So don’t be afraid to see that the digital future is already here. With a good plan and logical approach, you’ll come out more robust and influential than ever.


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Iowa Never Locked Down. Its Economy Is Struggling Anyway.



As far as the law is concerned, there is no reason that Amedeo Rossi can’t reopen his martini bar in downtown Des Moines, or resume shows at his concert venue two doors down. Yet Mr. Rossi’s businesses remain dark, and one has closed for good.

There are no restrictions keeping Denver Foote from carrying on with her work at the salon where she styles hair. But Ms. Foote is picking up only two shifts a week, and is often sent home early because there are so few customers.

No lockdown stood in the way of the city’s Oktoberfest, but the celebration was canceled. “We could have done it, absolutely,” said Mindy Toyne, whose company has produced the event for 17 years. “We just couldn’t fathom a way that we could produce a festival that was safe.”

President Trump and many supporters blame restrictions on business activity, often imposed by Democratic governors and mayors, for prolonging the economic crisis initially caused by the virus. But the experience of states like Iowa shows the economy is far from back to normal even in Republican-led states that have imposed few business restrictions.

A growing body of research has concluded that the steep drop in economic activity last spring was primarily a result of individual decisions by consumers and businesses rather than legal mandates. People stopped going to restaurants even before governors ordered them shut down. Airports emptied out even though there were never significant restrictions on domestic air travel.

States like Iowa that reopened quickly did have an initial pop in employment and sales. But more cautious states have at least partly closed that gap, and have seen faster economic rebounds in recent months by many measures.

ImageCourt Avenue in downtown Des Moines attracted little foot traffic on a Saturday night in October.
Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times

Economists say it is hard to estimate exactly how much economic activity is still being restrained by capacity limits, social-distancing rules and similar policies, many of which have been lifted or loosened even in places governed by Democrats. In most states, restaurants, retail stores and even bars are allowed to operate.

Perhaps the most widespread government action that has hindered economic growth is the decision by many school districts to adopt virtual learning at the start of the school year, which appears to have driven many parents, particularly women, out of the labor force to care for young children who would otherwise be in class.

But as the pandemic flares again in much of the country, most economists agree this much is clear: The main thing holding back the economy is not formal restrictions. It is people’s continued fear of the virus itself.

“You can’t just open the economy and expect everything to go back to pre-Covid levels,” said Michael Luca, a Harvard Business School economist who has studied the impact of restrictions during the pandemic. “If a market is not safe, people won’t participate in it.”

Iowa was one of only a handful of states that never imposed a full stay-at-home order. Restaurants, movie theaters, hair salons and bars were allowed to reopen starting in May, earlier than in most states. Gov. Kim Reynolds has emphasized the need to make the economy a priority, and has blocked cities and towns from requiring masks or imposing many other restrictions.

Even so, Iowa has regained just over half of the 186,000 jobs it lost between February and April, and progress — as in the country as a whole — is slowing. Many businesses worry they won’t be able to make it through the winter without more help from Congress. Others have already failed. Now, coronavirus cases are rising there.

Vaudeville Mews, the small performance hall that Mr. Rossi opened in Des Moines in 2002, was a labor of love even in the best of times. The venue attracted a fan base with its willingness to book independent acts, but it often lost money. Mr. Rossi had been saving up in hopes of buying a new space, but the pandemic ended that dream.

Legally, music venues in Iowa were allowed to reopen in June, but with social-distancing requirements that significantly reduced their capacity. Even if those rules were lifted, Mr. Rossi said, he couldn’t see a path toward reopening safely and profitably anytime soon. This month, he announced that Vaudeville Mews would be closing permanently.

“We couldn’t pay our rent, and it was piling up, and we were constantly still getting drained by internet bill, insurance bill, utility bill,” he said. “Who wants to go into huge debt to float a business that we don’t see any end in sight?”

Mr. Rossi’s nearby bar, the Lift, is officially still in business, but aside from a brief experiment with deliveries, it hasn’t served a drink since March. He has considered welcoming a small number of customers on a reservation-only basis, but so far hasn’t figured out how to reopen in a way that would both be safe and not cost him even more than staying closed.

Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times
Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times

“We felt it would be worse for us to reopen,” he said.

At Court Avenue Restaurant & Brewing Company, around the corner from Vaudeville Mews and the Lift, the lack of nightlife is taking a toll on business. So is the lack of the normal lunchtime crowd, with many office employees still working from home. Court Avenue reopened in May, but has regained just 30 to 40 percent of its pre-pandemic sales, according to the owner, Scott Carlson.

“Even if the governor said, ‘Hey, we’re taking away all restrictions and all mandates and all recommendations,’ our numbers wouldn’t change, not very dramatically,” he said.

Iowa has outperformed many other states economically during the pandemic, at least by some measures. The unemployment rate capped out at 11 percent in April — below the 14.7 percent hit by the country as a whole — and it has fallen quickly, to 4.7 percent in September.

But economists attribute Iowa’s success primarily to its favorable mix of industries. The state relies more heavily than most on agriculture and manufacturing, which were comparatively insulated from the virus.

Vulnerable industries like tourism, hospitality and retail sales are struggling in Iowa as they are everywhere else. Data compiled by researchers at Harvard and Brown Universities from private sources shows that consumer spending has rebounded more slowly in Iowa than in neighboring states.

“Retailers are still having a tough go of it in Iowa,” said Ernie Goss, a Creighton University economist who studies Iowa and the Midwest. “You’re talking about individuals who regardless of regulations are not going back in a restaurant right now.”

Mike Draper owns a chain of T-shirt shops with three stores in Iowa and others in Omaha, Chicago and Kansas City, Mo. Customer traffic is down 30 to 50 percent in all of them, he said, with no consistent patterns based on the rules local governments have imposed.

“It has almost nothing to do with regulations,” Mr. Draper said. “It’s really driven by people’s mentality more than regulations.”

Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times

There is little doubt that restrictions are restraining some economic activity, particularly in parts of the country that have strictly limited restaurant capacity and indoor gatherings. Local business owners say that restaurants are noticeably busier in Davenport, Iowa, than across the Mississippi River in Moline, Ill., where rules on mask-wearing and social distancing are stricter and more consistently enforced, although business is not back to normal on either side of the river.

But greater activity can also come with a cost, to both public health and the economy. When college campuses in Iowa reopened in August, students packed into bars and nightclubs — and coronavirus cases quickly began to rise. Governor Reynolds shut down bars in several college towns for more than a month.

For some workers, Iowa’s situation is the worst of both worlds: They are back at work, putting them at risk of contracting the virus, but don’t have enough customers to make a living.

Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times
Credit…Kathryn Gamble for The New York Times

Ms. Foote, 24, had worked at the beauty salon for just a few weeks when it shut down because of the pandemic. The job was the fulfillment of a longstanding dream — after years of juggling school and low-wage jobs, she was finally working full time and on track to get benefits.

Even so, when the salon reopened in the spring, she was scared to return to work. And once she did go back, there was little work for her.

“I just kind of sit around and don’t do anything,” she said. “People are scared to go into the salon and sit for an hour.”

Ms. Foote said she was taking home just $200 for each two-week pay period, meaning she again needs to supplement her income with part-time jobs. But she isn’t sure she should be rooting for business to pick up.

“I don’t see how me going to the salon more often and exposing myself is going to make things better,” she said. “I don’t think that’s safe, personally.”


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