News | May 07, 2020

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FGCU launches research to measure impacts of COVID-19

Life today is anything but business as usual. As we continue to learn more about COVID-19, Florida Gulf Coast University’s community members are not sitting back to watch. Within days of learning how the virus would change our day-to-day normal, FGCU faculty got to work. Research is happening on campus with the goal of being prepared if and when another event, like coronavirus, happens again.

Lutgert College of Business: Regional Economic Research Institute

COVID-19 is bad for business in Southwest Florida and FGCU’s Regional Economic Research Institute has the numbers to prove it.

“Southwest Florida’s economy crashed on a dime back in mid-March,” said Chris Westley, dean of Lutgert College of Business.

Following a request from Lee County’s economic development office, Westley and a team developed a three-part plan for a study that tracks the impact COVID-19 has on the Southwest Florida economy.

photo shows Christopher Westley is the new dean of FGCU's Lutgert College of Business.
Christopher Westley is researching the regional business impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: James Greco/FGCU

The survey was sent out the last week of March with the help of area chambers of commerce, economic development organizations, industry organizations and visitors and convention bureaus. These organizations shared the survey with their networks and nearly 950 area businesses replied.

A review of responses revealed a majority of companies saw a decrease in profit, with small businesses getting hit the worst. A whopping 63 percent of respondents in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties said their revenue declined more than 50 percent.

“We wanted to cast the net as far as we could,” said Westley. “We were able to collect information about the state of the economy after the dam broke.”

Westley sees COVID-19 as the “anti-small business virus” for Southwest Florida. Seventy percent of small businesses with fewer than 25 employees reported that customer demand had fallen by more than half as a result of the coronavirus.

“The survey was putting accurate numbers to what we were all seeing. When the state employment numbers came out, they weren’t reflecting what we’re seeing,” explained Westley.

The survey will be repeated monthly through June, or however long the virus continues to impact Southwest Florida’s economy. Its results will help businesses create contingency plans so they can be prepared for the next curveball thrown our way.

Lutgert College of Business: Department of Management

As days seem to run together during this pandemic, so does balancing work and home life. COVID-19 shut down schools and forced a large portion of the population to work remotely. Some people were told to work from home with little or no choice. This sudden change in lifestyle has taken a toll on some families.

“We weren’t seeing much on how parents were coping with working from home and once schools closed it got really interesting,” said Jenny Manegold, interim chair and assistant professor of the Department of Management.

Manegold and assistant professor Ashley Mandeville are researching the attitudes and behaviors of employees who are working from home with children. As moms also working during this pandemic, the two are looking at several factors, including employee stress, turnover intentions and boundary management strategies.

“We really wanted to understand how this was working for people so we can have recommendations for better policy and better parental support for organizations,” explained Manegold.

A survey was developed and distributed through social media. The assessment is taken by working parents once a week over four weeks.

After the surveys are completed, Manegold and Mandeville plan to analyze the data and submit their research to organizational behavior journals this summer. They hope it starts a conversation that brings possible changes to company policies to improve this type of situation now and in the future for employees.

“I think it’s important to bring awareness. If you have a supervisor that doesn’t have children, versus a subordinate that does have children, maybe that supervisor isn’t aware of the hardships of managing both work and homeschooling activities throughout the day,” said Mandeville.

Marieb College of Health & Human Services

In a non-COVID-related medical emergency, where do you go?

It’s a question posed by Krista Casazza, Marieb College associate dean for research and scholarship, after a colleague needed medical attention for an accelerated heartbeat and feared getting infected with the virus at the emergency room.

“Our thought process was with people with full access to resources like insurance, where are they going? And if they are having trouble, just think about the trickledown effect with people who don’t have insurance,” said Casazza.

In a brainstorming session with the Estero Council of Community Leaders (ECCL), Casazza and her team developed an 18-question anonymous survey asking people what medical resources they would take advantage of if they needed help.

The ECCL supplied them with a list of 10,000-plus people to send the survey to and they received a good response, Casazza said.

In a preliminary analysis of the 800 people who responded, the majority who needed care during the pandemic went to a doctor’s office. Over 65 percent of people who responded said if they needed healthcare they would not use the emergency room for treatment. Participants also agreed telehealth would decrease the risk of exposure, but only 55 percent of those surveyed would use telehealth if they had a non-emergency medical condition.

Casazza plans to publish these findings in a social work publication that highlights the potential need for care coordination for people with less access to resources. She hopes it will lead to the consideration of a type of COVID-free zone for medical treatment for those with medical emergencies who fear being exposed.

“It provides the needs assessments for planning so we don’t get caught with our mask off, literally and figuratively, in the future if there’s any type of medical emergency that impacts a large percentage of the population,” said Casazza. “The delay in acting because of lack of planning could exacerbate the adverse outcome.”