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What Happens When States Reopen, Truth Decay, Telemedicine: RAND Weekly Recap

May 22, 2020

This week we discuss the effects of easing restrictions put in place to combat COVID-19; how “Truth Decay” is playing out during the pandemic; why it's time to replace the government's digital infrastructure; using cell phone data to track COVID-19 cases; how psychiatrists feel about telemedicine; and ways to help refugees and their host countries.

Crowds gather at Buffalo Bayou Park as social distancing guidelines to curb the spread of COVID-19 are relaxed in Houston, Texas, May 4, 2020, photo by Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters

Photo by Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters

COVID-19 Recovery: States Face Stark Health and Economic Choices

What will be the effects of easing restrictions put in place to combat the spread of COVID-19? A new RAND tool uses continually refreshed data to help state leaders understand both the health and economic consequences of reopening.

Our projections for two states—Texas, which plans to relax its relatively loose restrictions soon, and Wisconsin, where the situation is fluid after the state's Supreme Court overturned the governor's stay-at-home order—demonstrate an important takeaway. Peaks in COVID-19 cases and deaths can be pushed back and potentially diminished by extending the duration of restrictions.

In other words, maintaining social distancing buys states time. They can spend this time improving communities' ability to interact safely—for example, by producing and distributing personal protective equipment. States could also push forward with expanded testing, improved treatments, and vaccine development.

Protesters gather in Lansing, Michigan, in response to the state's extended stay-at-home orders, May 14, 2020, photo by Seth Herald/Reuters

Protesters gather in Lansing, Michigan, in response to the state's extended stay-at-home orders, May 14, 2020

Photo by Seth Herald/Reuters

How 'Truth Decay' Plays Out During a Pandemic

Polling suggests that views about the pandemic are largely partisan. In an interview with Vox, RAND's Jennifer Kavanagh explains how “Truth Decay,” the diminishing role of facts in American public life, may be contributing to this divide. “People are not sure what's true, what's not, and they don't even really know where to turn to find factual information,” she says. She goes on to discuss how this phenomenon could hinder the U.S. COVID-19 response—and whether the pandemic could be the big jolt that finally convinces Americans of the importance of objective facts.

Man writing programming code, photo by RossHelen/Getty Images

Photo by RossHelen/Getty Images

It's Time to Repair the Government's Digital Infrastructure

The coronavirus crisis has revealed the decrepit state of America's digital infrastructure, says RAND's James Ryseff. What could be done to fix it? First, the government could start to think of software as a set of platforms to build on—instead of isolated applications that accomplish individual tasks. Second, it's important to fund software applications for their complete life cycle. And finally, government officials should consider ways to make software more resilient.

The Care19 mobile app, developed by the State of North Dakota to assist in contact tracing during the global outbreak of the COVID-19, April 24, 2020, photo by Paresh Dave/Reuters

The Care19 mobile app, developed by the State of North Dakota to assist in COVID-19 contact tracing, April 24, 2020

Photo by Paresh Dave/Reuters

Using Apps to Fight COVID-19: Risks and Benefits

Cell phones and activity trackers offer an unprecedented opportunity to identify, track, map, and communicate about COVID-19. It makes sense to use these technologies to help fight the spread of infections and keep individuals and communities informed. But RAND experts warn that there are important security and privacy trade-offs to consider. Taking reasonable precautions against these risks—in addition to preventing the spread of the virus—can help keep communities safe.

Woman having online consultation with doctor on a smartphone, photo by mixetto/Getty Images

Photo by mixetto/Getty Images

How Do Psychiatrists Feel About Telemedicine?

During the pandemic, many psychiatrists have rapidly transitioned to provide consultations via phone and video. To learn more about this shift and how it has affected care, RAND researchers conducted a series of interviews. The findings highlight some concerns from psychiatrists, including diminished privacy for patients, increased distractions in the home setting, and a lack of reliable access to technology. Nonetheless, the transition to telemedicine has been largely viewed as positive for both patients and physicians.

A worker rides on a vehicle transporting food supplies distributed by United Nations Relief and Works Agency to the homes of Palestinian refugees as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, in Gaza City, March 31, 2020, photo by Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Workers transport food supplies to the homes of Palestinian refugees, Gaza City, March 31, 2020

Photo by Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Helping Refugees During and After COVID-19

Having already escaped conflict and persecution, the world's 71 million refugees, internally displaced persons, and asylum seekers now face risk of illness and death from the coronavirus. According to RAND's Shelly Culbertson and former adviser to President George W. Bush, Gary Edson, this crisis could be an opportunity to remake the broken system that's designed to support displaced people. What's needed is a new framework for helping refugees and host countries—both during and after the pandemic—that reflects the different circumstances of refugees living both in camps and in urban areas.

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