Experts look into the shape of a post-pandemic world
The United States is heading toward reopening after months of pandemic shutdowns, and the UO is returning to classes in person this fall. Businesses, schools and organizations are resuming normal operations as vaccination rates rise across the country. There is a growing feeling that the pandemic is coming to an end.
Thus, Around the O revisits a story from a year ago, where UO experts weighed in on COVID-19 through the prism of their research expertise. Now they’re giving a look at what surprised them during the pandemic, what’s going on in their field right now, and what they’re watching as things reopen.
Tim Duy – economics
OU economist Tim Duy said the scale of the federal government’s fiscal stimulus was one of the pandemic’s biggest surprises.
“This is a very big departure from what has happened in other recessions,” he said.
But one thing that went according to plan is the prediction that the economy could reopen once a vaccine is developed and distributed. Now that vaccines are widely available and vaccination rates are high, Duy said economic activity is picking up as expected and consumers are eager to spend the money.
“People normalize their behavior very quickly and spend money at a rapid rate,” he said.
But as economic activity picks up, some components of the economy are still catching up after the pandemic has closed, such as supply chains, which have fallen behind and are unable to keep pace with demand for goods. . As a result, inflation rates rise and Duy wonders how much of current inflation will survive the pandemic.
One thing he hopes to survive the pandemic is an increased shift to remote working, which could have many ripple effects on the economy and the job market. Local economies in urban areas might struggle as workers stay home and don’t commute – or spend money – in city centers.
And the increased mobility of workers also means that companies must compete for the workforce nationally and internationally. And that means the local job market is no longer as local as employers face with businesses outside of the region where they are headquartered.
And then there’s the question of what workers want after enjoying the benefits of working from home, like avoiding commuting.
“People have the potential to make a major life change and continue to work from home,” said Duy.
He expects many people to resume their pre-pandemic activities because “the behavior is sticky,” but Duy is curious what other individual practices may change as economic activity picks up.
Ellen Peters – decision making and science communication
The biggest surprise to UO’s risk and decision expert Ellen Peters has lived in the midst of science as it has developed.
“What we think we know is true about the pandemic is constantly changing,” said Peters. “It’s such a new disease that emerging science about it has changed what we do more than once. This is a really unusual situation.
This reality has presented a challenge for science communication, said Peters, who is also the director of the OU’s Center for Science Communication Research.
Some of the agency guidelines during the pandemic were issued with great certainty, but then something changes and those guidelines are no longer true, such as when health officials said masks would not be useful during the early stages of the disease. the pandemic. They then learned more about the virus and made a turnaround, recommending the use of masks to control its spread.
The way the changes were communicated has contributed to public confusion and distrust of science, Peters said.
“There hasn’t been enough communication about the scientific process,” she said.
Going forward, Peters sees an opportunity to raise awareness of the scientific process to help build confidence in science and fight disinformation.
“We need to increase the scientific and digital knowledge of the public and help them understand the statistics in the news so that they can make informed decisions,” she said.
Some science issues have been more politicized than ever, and she stresses that people need to be equipped with the tools to help them digest science news and make good personal choices. She recommends doing things like looking beyond an anecdote in a news story for data that tells the big story.
She also believes it is essential to encourage scientific curiosity, so that people are more likely to explore and gain knowledge on their own and less likely to believe and share misinformation.
Janis Weeks – biology and infectious diseases
OU biologist Janis Weeks hopes the COVID-19 outbreak heightens the urgency for government and international organizations to prepare for future outbreaks, which are inevitable, she said.
“This coronavirus outbreak has been a tremendous wake-up call that emerging infectious diseases are an ever-growing threat and countries need to better prepare in advance,” Weeks said. “It’s a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ there will be future outbreaks of new pathogens.”
More research needs to be focused on emerging pathogens to help prepare for future outbreaks, she said.
“We don’t know what kind of pathogen will cause the next big epidemic, but by developing modular vaccines that can be quickly developed and tested, we can respond faster,” she said.
It also stresses that tackling climate change is a critical part of reducing the risk of future epidemics, as things such as habitat destruction and migration to urban centers can lead to epidemics.
Weeks was surprised by the politicization of public health measures like masks and social distancing during the pandemic, but was delighted that effective vaccines had been developed and tested in such a short time.
“It is particularly important that mRNA vaccines, which use new molecular technology to produce antigens and elicit an immune response, have been shown to be safe and effective, in record time,” Weeks said.
Weeks stressed the importance of increasing global vaccination rates to help fight viral mutations that can fuel the spread of the disease, which is known to occur with many infectious diseases.
“Unvaccinated people provide Petri dishes for the virus to try for new mutations,” Weeks explained. “Thanks to natural selection, the most transmissible strains will prevail. In the worst case, mutant strains of SARS-CoV-2 could overcome immunity due to vaccination or previous infection. Promoting global immunization is therefore both a matter of social justice and an investment in our own security. Now that vaccination rates in the United States are on the rise, it’s time to help other parts of the world. “
Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg – building design and human health
UO’s Kevin Van Den Wylmelenberg was surprised at how long it took healthcare organizations to share that COVID-19 is an airborne virus that spreads through aerosol transmission, not surfaces.
Van Den Wylmelenberg believes that this shift in direction has prevented faster action to improve ventilation systems in buildings. But he now sees developments with ventilation codes and building standards that show promise and would help mitigate disease transmission in shared spaces.
“We continue to pursue our dream of near real-time indoor viral surveillance and are working diligently on testing highly sensitive and rapid forms of detection for indoor pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2,” Van Den Wylmelenberg said. “We are also developing risk analysis methods so that buildings can be operated with awareness of the risks and have appropriate strategies based on the risk of transmission of pathogens.”
Van Den Wylmelenberg expects to see a movement to design and renovate buildings so that they can make shared airspaces safer. This could happen through systems designed to switch between modes, which could reduce the risk of pathogen transmission, remove outside particles like smoke from forest fires, and reduce fuel consumption. energy.
“Shared indoor air poses a risk of pathogen transmission, and COVID-19 has forced us to face that reality,” he said. “We know how to measure and mitigate the risk of indoor disease transmission, so the critical question remaining is: how are we going to manage this risk?”
“We always pursue the vision of near real-time indoor pathogen surveillance, as we believe this will help guide effective and responsive risk mitigation efforts, allow us to operate buildings with reduced energy consumption and resiliently reopen and maintain a thriving economy, ”he said.