In “COVID-19 in Context: A Deans’ Forum on Living with a Pandemic,” a series of three virtual events, the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the Virginia Tech College of Science joined together to illustrate how a range of fields are contributing to our understanding of the pandemic.

The third of these events, “Maintaining and Surviving: Challenges to Community Health during an Epidemic,” took place on November 30, 2020. Laura Belmonte, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and Sally C. Morton, dean of the Virginia Tech College of Science, co-chaired the event.

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The webinar included two presentations:

Maintaining Occupational Health in a Pandemic: Lessons from Before and During an Unfolding Crisis
Maintaining occupational health is critical to employee well-being, satisfaction, and job performance, particularly as work, personal, and global stressors have risen during the unfolding COVID-19 crisis. Barriers to occupational health maintenance may be particularly acute during the pandemic for employees at greater risk for serious complications from the virus, such as older workers and those with preexisting medical conditions; employees who have abruptly and suddenly moved to telework while balancing novel and challenging family or personal circumstances, such as supporting children’s virtual schooling and caring for a sick relative; and essential workers, such as health care workers.

Drawing on his research on how employees perceive, react to, and recover from work stress and the generalizability of these processes across different subpopulations of employees, Charles Calderwood, an assistant professor of psychology in the College of Science, outlined avenues to support occupational health during the COVID-19 pandemic and in its aftermath. He gave particular attention to how these occupational health maintenance strategies can be harnessed to support vulnerable workers in an effort to mitigate occupational health disparities these workers may face during the pandemic and beyond.

Cripping a Pandemic
Disabled oracles, artists, and poets tell us about survival in a hostile world. During the COVID-19 pandemic, their voices have seemed prescient with concepts such as “crip time” and flexibility in work becoming, for some, a “new normal.”

In “Cripping a Pandemic,” Ashley Shew, an associate professor of science, technology, and society in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, highlighted some of this work (including insights from the “Technology & Disability: Counternarratives,” a Choices and Challenges Forum), placing the work in the larger context of conversations about who gets valued (and who gets lifesaving treatment), institutionalization, and eugenics.