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NAU Supporting Businesses, Communities During COVID-19

Outside of the critical work of preparing Northern Arizona University for the return to campus, researchers, faculty and staff have been working hard to find vaccines, improve testing and support stressed communities and local businesses as they live through the various effects of the pandemic.

One recent effort to enhance consumer confidence is an NAU partnership with Coconino County Health and Human Services to provide a COVID Aware Enhanced Food Handler’s Certification.

The curriculum was developed by the Economic Policy Institute and the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, in conjunction with county health professionals. It incorporates recommendations and best practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Arizona Department of Health Services. It offers testing, training and verification to county businesses with food handler certificates, providing the most current health guidance on preventing the spread of COVID-19 among employees and customers in food service establishments.

Because restaurants are among the businesses most affected by the pandemic, showing visible, tangible actions to keep customers and employees safe will help consumers feel greater confidence ordering food from restaurants. To learn more about the COVID Aware Enhanced Food Handler’s Certification and find the COVID-19 Aware Food Service Business List, visit the CCHHS website.

Another NAU effort is tracking local businesses’ sentiments during the pandemic. NAU’s Economic Policy Institute is in the fourth round of its Business Leaders’ Survey for Coconino County and Sedona. In the latest results, released mid-July, 87% of responding businesses reported they were open, operating at 62% capacity and experiencing a 38% drop in revenue from the same time last year. This is an improvement over last month’s results, which showed 47% of businesses were fully open and had experienced a 44% decrease in revenue. Overall, findings show steady improvement and a commitment to staying open, observing safety and wellness for customers and staff.

On the research front, scientists at NAU’s Pathogen and Microbiome Institute (PMI) have received funding from the Flinn Foundation to support NAU’s COVID-19 response. Grants to PMI will fund vaccine testing and treatments for the coronavirus.

In April, PMI launched the new COVID-19 Testing Service Center (CTSC), which will use PMI facilities to test and evaluate proposed coronavirus vaccines and treatments. Several private companies and academic teams working to develop treatments have consulted with PMI to move their compounds for screening at NAU, including Vault Pharma and Oncology Venture. Flinn Foundation funding will help accelerate this work.

We are especially grateful we have been able to assist local native and Indigenous communities – which have been hard hit during the pandemic – with internet connectivity, personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer, as part of our comprehensive relief efforts. I have shared information about our COVID-19 response within local Indigenous communities before and wanted to provide an update.

NAU has helped establish more than 30 internet Wi-Fi hotspots, with the help of a number of telecommunications companies, including the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority. This effort has been critical to ensuring native students could continue their studies after NAU adopted full remote learning this spring.

The Office of Native American Initiatives also coordinated with NAU professors to distribute Personal Protective Equipment to Navajo and Hopi nations, including more than 600 face shields. Chad Hamill, vice president of ONAI, who has been instrumental to all these efforts, also engaged with the University of California, Berkeley, to distribute hand sanitizer within Navajo Nation.

At NAU, we are rising to meet the challenges before us with determination and thoughtful hard work. We have been generating solutions, improving lives and providing excellence in education since our inception in 1899. FBN

By Rita Cheng

Rita Hartung Cheng is president of Northern Arizona University.



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