‘Silver linings’: UC Berkeley faculty experts discuss reopening of economy after COVID-19

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As part of UC Berkeley’s virtual conversations, four campus faculty experts gathered Friday to talk about the challenges of reopening the economy after the pandemic ends.

Moderated by campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, the panel discussed the effects of the pandemic in the United States and the importance of testing and reporting consistency. Panelists also provided insight into “silver linings” in workplaces and education that may result from the pandemic.

“We’ve seen a lot of heterogeneity across settings in terms of how the epidemic has played out — the extent to which hospitals have been able to accommodate the infections that have occurred and really provide the service that people need,” said Maya Petersen, panelist and campus biostatistics and epidemiology associate professor, during the livestream. “We’re starting to see that now extended into this next phase as well.”

Jonathan Kolstad, panelist and campus associate professor of economic analysis and policy, echoed these thoughts, stating that the degree of fragmentation at multiple levels of the U.S. response was “striking.” He added that coordination at every point is “critical,” as the actions of states that lack response or respond ineffectively to the disease may be “costly” to other states when reopening the economy.

According to Jennifer Chatman, panelist and associate dean for learning strategies at the Haas School of Business, leaders must find a balance between being realistic and reassuring to their employees. To find this balance, Chatman added, leaders should anticipate how others will react to both their words and actions in order to prevent damages in the long run.

“If there were any time where being a deliberate leader was needed, now is the time,” Chatman said during the livestream. “Leaders don’t have the luxury of sending inconsistent messages.”

Throughout the livestream, all four panelists agreed that the first policy issue that needs to be addressed to begin reopening the economy is testing capacity and reliable data collection.

David Levine, panelist and chair of the Haas Economic Analysis and Policy Group, added that careful monitoring of preventative measures in place before and after testing occurs is important to keeping people safe.

“Our goal here is not zero transmission,” Petersen said during the livestream. “What we want to be able to do is identify people that have become infected as soon as possible and make sure they have the support they need.”

Questions from the audience prompted discussion regarding possible changes to workplace environments due to the move to virtual operations in light of COVID-19.

One silver lining to this pandemic is the newfound effectiveness of remote work that some organizations are seeing, Chatman said. Kolstad added that complementary public policy should be implemented if there is a permanent transition to working remotely in the future.

This conversation eventually led to the question of whether or not college campuses should resume normal instruction in the fall. According to Chatman, it is “inevitable” for universities to use some form of a “hybrid” balance between in-person classes and remote activities.

“It’s not going to be from full shelter in place and everything closed to 100% on again,” Petersen said during the livestream. “We also want to make sure we have the systems in place to catch those things early to do graded and smartly targeted public health interventions that hopefully will prevent us from getting to a place where we need full lockdown again.”

Contact Clara Rodas at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Crodas_dc.