Experts discuss issues presented by the pandemic

NDSU Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth | Photo Courtesy
Among the topics discussed were the economy, health and social issues

The three panelists shared their knowledge on how the pandemic has shifted life

On Oct. 20, the Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth and North Dakota State University Public Health held a panel discussion on the economic, health and social issues brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic and the possible strategies to start the recovery process to return to a thriving society.

The panel was moderated by Dr. John Bitzan, the Menard Family Director of the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth and Dr. Pamela Jo Johnson, Chair of NDSU Public health.

In the U.S., most receive health insurance through a place of employment making it an extra burden to lose one’s job and health coverage. When looking at the loss of employment, there is an immediate impact and long-term impact in delaying health care needs.

The loss of employment and families struggling to pay bills or keep food on their plates raises the topic of the benefits of another stimulus check.

“It’s critical that we have another stimulus package not only to support individuals and small businesses but an amount to support state governments to continue the needs of local communities and core safety net programs,” Dr. Lynn Blewett, Professor of Health Policy and Management and Director of the State Health Access Data Assistance Center at the University of Minnesota (health data expert) said.

A member from the audience asked a question that challenged the idea of another stimulus package because the U.S. would be deficit spending. The question was given to all three panelists who agreed that the U.S. will suffer more trying to help people recover after the pandemic than sending out another stimulus check now.

“We don’t have a choice when it comes to sending out another stimulus check even though the country is already hurting financially,” Blewett said. “The cost of recovering people will be more than sending out another stimulus check.”

Shutdowns can be effective at slowing the virus and reducing the number of COVID-19 deaths, but it is also known that economic decline is a public health crisis. Many businesses are currently shut down and there have been record levels of unemployment and declines in economic activity.

People have suffered from emotional and mental health effects from isolation. There have also been deaths and declines in physical health from social isolation, an inability to work and the delay of necessary medical care.

“Shut down is a bad word and it’s really costly,” Dr. Ali Mokdad, Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and Chief Strategy Officer for Population Health at the University of Washington (public health expert) said.

Mokdad continued on his point by saying that the U.S. put itself between two extremes: shut down or go about our life doing what we used to do. The country didn’t find a middle ground and became politically divided.

“The signal noise around government policies and what they mean and will they be revoked or changed has really done the damage when figuring out how to sustain and respond to the pandemic,” Dr. Stefanie Haeffele, Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason (economist and community recovery expert) said.

“There is an issue with even the phrase social-distancing. What does that mean? It makes it sound like we aren’t allowed to interact with anyone. Maybe physical distancing could be something that doesn’t sound so [harsh].”

The economy could have kept running if people wore their masks and stayed away from each other, or if the U.S. provided all citizens with a consistent public health message on why it was clear on why you need to wear a mask.

“If a pandemic doesn’t get us to think about each other I don’t know what does,” Blewett said.

The country shut down as soon as they knew about the virus. The numbers went down, everything was okay and then everything opened prematurely.

Other countries did not shut down, but they had a consistent public health message and didn’t have division. The U.S. is faced with one decision which is to shut down because people are not adhering to the message that the public officials are telling them about masks and social distancing.

For covid-19, the national response of the U.S. government was to leave the decision regarding mask mandates and business restrictions up to the states. This created a lot of confusion for Americans as they were torn between what was right and what was wrong.

The role of local leaders and entrepreneurs to fill gaps needed with issues that come during and after a crisis.

Blewett said that there is no one voice for your community, who people look to means a lot and there are a lot of different leaders and people who can step up to help people and the community recover.

The panelists made it clear that local leaders and entrepreneurs are really important because they provide goods and services for their community, and they are a signal for when recovery is on its way.

“The leaders of our children’s school, church or businesses, or the place we go to get dinner when we are sick of cooking every night,” Haeffele said. “Those are signals that ‘oh’ there is some sense of normalcy.”

The topic of whether or not schools should continue to open up was asked among the three panelists. Together they came up with a mutual agreement that opening school depends on how the community handles the virus and what they do to protect others in the community first.

If the cases go up, the students will attend online, but if the cases go down, students will be allowed into classrooms.

“If you want to open your schools, close your bars until you have brought down the cases,” Mokdad said as the safety of children is a big concern as well as loved ones that are in the education field.

Finally, the panelists were asked what some positives of this pandemic might be. Some ideas were innovations like restaurants adapting, the way we are getting groceries to people of high risk and finding different solutions for attending work and school.

For the future, there are high hopes that the country and its people have learned how to handle situations like Covid-19.

“The realization that pandemics are out there and this won’t be the last one,” Blewett said. “What we can do to better prepare can be considered a positive and thinking about how we move forwards as a community and that we are all in this together.”

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