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Online Shopping, Living in a Riskier World, Stress in Communities: RAND Weekly Recap

July 10, 2020

This week we discuss whether Americans' online shopping habits have changed during COVID-19; learning to live in a riskier world; helping communities overcome years of toxic stress; why college in America may never be the same; homelessness among domestic abuse survivors; and models that can help Virginia policymakers respond to the pandemic.

An Amazon worker delivers packages amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Denver, Colorado, April 22, 2020, photo by Kevin Mohatt/Reuters

An Amazon worker delivering packages amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Denver, Colorado, April 22, 2020

Photo by Kevin Mohatt/Reuters

Online Shopping: Many Americans' Habits Haven't Changed During COVID-19

With stay-at-home orders in place and many brick-and-mortar stores shuttered, one might expect a big increase in online shopping. But according to a new RAND survey, almost two-thirds of Americans say that they haven't changed their online shopping habits since the pandemic began. About one-quarter of respondents reported shopping online more often, while 13 percent are shopping less often. Among those shopping more, most made small increases in their habits, and almost no one made significant increases.

A waitress takes the temperature of customers as restaurants are permitted to offer al fresco dining as part of phase 2 reopening in New York City, June 27, 2020, photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

A server takes the temperature of customers at a restaurant in New York City, June 27, 2020

Photo by Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Learning to Live in a Riskier World

COVID-19 is clearly a major threat. But isolation to stop its spread can damage economic security, social connection, and mental and physical health. How can Americans balance the threat of infection against the daily activities they value? According to RAND's Shanthi Nataraj and Sita Nataraj Slavov of George Mason University, the only path forward may be to learn to live in a riskier world. People can mitigate risk by wearing masks, holding events outdoors, and physically distancing. And policymakers can help by investing in and encouraging testing.

A divided community where one side is getting flooded, illustration by Meriel Waissman

Illustration by Meriel Waissman

Helping Communities Overcome Toxic Stress

Prolonged stress is toxic to the human body. And in marginalized communities, stress can accumulate over generations, causing despair, disinvestment, discrimination, and disparity. When this happens, any new crisis—including a pandemic—can be a tipping point. In 2018, RAND researchers developed a new way to understand how stress builds in communities. This framework can provide insights into what marginalized communities are really dealing with and how they can recover.

Harvard University campus after it shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 25, 2020, photo by Keiko Hiromi/Reuters

Harvard University campus after shutting down to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Cambridge, Massachusetts, March 25, 2020

Photo by Keiko Hiromi/Reuters

College May Never Look the Same

Many U.S. colleges and universities have reduced or eliminated in-person classes this fall. This has students and parents rethinking the high costs of tuition and the value of traditional higher education. This may threaten the business models of public and private colleges and universities. RAND experts warn that, under certain circumstances, this could produce a “race to the bottom,” as online providers of all types compete to offer college credits at the lowest price.

A woman peeks through a blind in a window, photo by lathuric/Getty Images

Photo by lathuric/Getty Images

Preventing Homelessness Among Domestic Abuse Survivors

Stay-at-home orders have forced many victims of domestic violence to be trapped at home with their tormentors, leading to more frequent abuse. (A recent RAND survey revealed that nine percent of Americans living with a partner reported an increase in physical or verbal abuse since the outbreak began.) Now, survivors who have escaped their abusers face a new crisis: housing. As COVID-19 infections spike, RAND experts say it may be time to invest in programs that help victims find safe and stable living situations.

A restaurant worker hangs a sign as phase one of reopening begins in Alexandria, Virginia, May 29, 2020, photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

A restaurant worker hangs a sign as phase one of reopening begins in Alexandria, Virginia, May 29, 2020

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

What Models Can Help Virginia Policymakers Respond to COVID?

Models have been widely used to understand the spread of COVID-19 and the effects of policies designed to stop the disease. In a new report, RAND experts explore which models may be suitable for guiding pandemic response in Virginia. They consider the relevance of the data, as well as the model's design, past performance, and transparency. Notably, the researchers found that any model should consider the extent and efficacy of such measures as widespread testing and contact tracing.

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