Weekly Now: How Associations Are Shifting Their COVID-19 Strategies

A decision by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pushed associations to take a variety of responses to the recent news. Also: The power of thinking about strategy like a futurist.

An improved outlook for COVID-19 is shifting the landscape around what people can do, and whether they need a mask—and associations, for or against such changes, are responding accordingly.

Perhaps the biggest change came about after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would no longer recommend that vaccinated people wear a mask, indoors or outdoors, in most settings, as long as state and local laws allowed for it, and if the business chose to do so. (Unvaccinated people would still be required to wear masks indoors.)

This move, seen as controversial in some quarters, created practical concerns for groups in the retail and restaurant industries. The National Restaurant Association, for one, said it would remove a suggestion from its website advising members to require mask use, but said it would work with the CDC to figure out what else was necessary.

“We still have a lot of questions for the CDC about how we need to implement their latest guidance,” said Larry Lynch, the group’s senior vice president of science and industry, in a statement to Reuters.

And multiple retail groups, including the National Retail Federation and the Retail Industry Leaders Association, noted the potential of the change in the long run, even if it creates immediate challenges.

“Retailers’ biggest priority is protecting the health and safety of their customers, colleagues and communities,” NRF said in a statement, according to Retail Dive. “Retailers will continue to follow coronavirus-related laws and regulations governing store operations in each state.”

RILA added in comments to CNBC that it encouraged guests to follow the store’s rules. “Frontline workers deserve this respect,” said Lisa LaBruno, RILA’s senior executive vice president of retail operations and innovation.

Of course, not everyone is favoring the shift in the mask mandate. For one, multiple major nursing groups, including National Nurses United, have come out in opposition to the rules, raising concerns that the precautions are not based in science.

“This is a huge blow to our efforts at confronting this virus and the pandemic,” said the group’s executive director, Bonnie Castillo, according to The New York Times. “The mask is another lifesaving layer of protection for workers.”

Another regional nursing group, the California Nurses Association, has called on its state to maintain its mask mandate indefinitely.

“I am disappointed, I am appalled,” said CNA President Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, in comments to NBC Bay Area. “I know that it is a premature decision that the CDC made.”

But whatever happens with the mask mandates at a local and national level, one thing is clear: Some people are going to use the change as an opportunity to go a little further into the world.

And for some associations, that’s creating a shift in messaging. The U.S. Travel Association last week announced plans to shift its “Let’s Go There” campaign, which aimed to promote the potential of travel in the future, to encourage people to book trips now.

“It’s time to stop dreaming, and start exploring. The moment has finally arrived when most of us can scratch the travel itch that’s been building in us for over a year,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said, according to TravelPulse.

A Futurist-Minded Strategy

In case you’re looking for a few ideas on how to improve your approach to strategic planning, Jeffrey Cufaude, author of the Substack newsletter Facilitate Better, has a few ideas up his sleeve. One comes from a 2019 Harvard Business Review article that encourages a “futurist”-style multiyear approach, in which tactics are used in the short term and are then played out over a longer period as well, becoming starting points for a strategy that eventually turns into a broader vision. The eventual outcome? Long-term change.

The hard part is the latter element—turning strategy into a broader vision.

“Lots of organizations get stuck cycling between strategy and tactics,” writes author Amy Webb. “While that process might feel like serious planning for the future, it results in a perpetual cycle of trying to catch up: to competitors, to new entrants, and to external sources of disruption.”

An eye to the long term could help you build more effectively now.


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(sandsun/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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