Microsoft announced Thursday that it is committing more than $ 110 million in additional funds to help Washington state continue to deal with and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Microsoft President Brad Smith said in a blog post and a news conference that the Redmond, Wash.-based tech giant is focused on being part of the solution that pulls communities together and focuses on a path toward restarting activities that fuel the economy and helps children get back to in-person learning in schools that can be safely reopened.
“This is a time when I think everyone is feeling fatigued,” Smith said. “COVID-19 is not letting up. Therefore, we can’t let up either. ”
The new funding pledge follows numerous commitments other companies and organizations have made to the region and state since the crisis started back in March. For example: Microsoft, Amazon and others launched a relief fund in the earliest days of the pandemic; the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation supported relief causes to the tune of $ 2.2 million; and Amazon also donated more than $ 2.5 million to support students from underserved communities in the Seattle region.
Among its funding priorities, Microsoft will continue to pay the hourly service providers on its campuses their regular pay even while their full services are not needed. Nine months after telling its workers they could do their jobs from home, Microsoft has paid more than $ 110 million in Washington state to those who staff campus lobbies, run cafes, drive shuttles and support other service needs.
Smith estimated that between Dec. 1 and Mar. 31, Microsoft will spend an additional $ 50 million paying these regular wages and that the company expects campuses won’t return to a full presence until July 2021.
Microsoft is also committing to further fund and support non-profit organizations in the state playing a critical role during the health crisis. The company has provided more than $ 98 million in cash and technology to such groups so far and will add roughly $ 60 million by July 15.
The challenges around remote learning and what students, teachers and schools will need to return to a physical rather than virtual setting are a big focus of Microsoft’s look ahead into the new year.
Smith was joined Thursday by Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington; Susan Enfield, superintendent of Highline Public Schools; and Juan Lavista, general manager and lab director of Microsoft AI for Good Research Lab.
Smith cited an NWEA report on the learning loss that is occurring during the pandemic, and in speaking about the struggles of online education, Lake said younger students across the state and country are having trouble focusing and older kids are suffering from anxiety and depression.
“Things are rough,” Lake said. “For a lot of kids across our state, things are really a crisis.”
To address all of that, Microsoft detailed four areas of interest as it lobbies for the opening of schools with the right precautions in place:
- Tracking test data: Microsoft will provide a free technology solution that will enable Washington state schools to better track and report COVID-19 related testing data within their district boundaries. Available to all school districts in the state, the technology will ensure that schools can provide parents and teachers with key updates on testing and infections.
- PPE and cleaning supplies: The company will donate supplies to any school district in Washington that needs them to reopen safely and meet necessary protocols.
- Backing updated guidelines: Microsoft says it is behind the Washington Department of Health’s updated guidelines for in-person learning, announced by Gov. Jay inslee this week.
- Support for prioritizing vaccines for teachers: While it’s vital to inoculate health care workers and others who are vulnerable first, Microsoft said that schools could reopen more quickly if teachers, school administrators and staff in higher risk categories at the K-5 level were eligible to get a COVID vaccine in January.