Restoring Public Trust, COVID-19 and Thanksgiving, Vaccinating Teachers: RAND Weekly Recap

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November 26, 2020

We discuss how the Biden-Harris administration can restore public trust in the government; the risk of Thanksgiving becoming a national super-spreader event; “meta-lessons” from the pandemic; why teachers should be among the first to get a COVID-19 vaccination; Costa Rica's ambitious climate change plan; and why homeless women in Los Angeles need more support.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks about the U.S. economy as Vice President–elect Kamala Harris stands by in Wilmington, Delaware, November 16, 2020, photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

How the Biden-Harris Team Can Restore Public Trust

The pandemic. The economy. Racial equity. Climate change. These are the priorities on the Biden-Harris agenda. To tackle any of these challenges, the incoming administration must restore Americans' trust in their government and in public institutions. That's according to RAND president and CEO Michael Rich and Jennifer Kavanagh, who leads RAND's Countering Truth Decay initiative.

Here are four recommendations to help rebuild America's civic infrastructure:

  • Increase transparency. Elected leaders should clearly disclose government deliberations, plans, and actions—and then provide honest accounts of successes and failures.
  • Elevate experts. Perceived competence is central to public trust, so qualifications and expertise must be the deciding factors when selecting appointees and agency heads.
  • Build a diverse team. Feelings of trust stem, in part, from inclusion and representation. Ensuring that the next government “looks like America” will be crucial.
  • Invest in civic education and development. Americans need support to better understand the foundations of democracy and how the government works. The new administration could fund coursework on civic responsibility or implement a national service requirement for young people.

Rehabilitating civic infrastructure, restoring public trust, and repairing America's deep divisions won't be easy. But it's essential. The health of our participatory democracy depends on it.

Passengers wait to check in at Tom Bradley international terminal at LAX airport in Los Angeles, California, November 23, 2020, photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Passengers wait to check in for their flights at Los Angeles International Airport, November 23, 2020

Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Will Thanksgiving Be a Super-Spreader Event?

Despite skyrocketing COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths, millions of Americans are traveling for Thanksgiving—but at what cost? Will the holiday result in a deadly fallout? The risk depends on the size of the gathering and the local infection rate, says RAND's Carter Price. But no matter where you live, your safest option is to celebrate with only the people in your household. “December will be a grim month if people don't stay home,” Price warns.

Surreal landscape with a split road and signpost arrows, photo by Bulat Silvia/Getty Images

Photo by Bulat Silvia/Getty Images

Under-the-Radar Lessons from COVID-19

COVID-19 has revealed several subtle “meta-lessons,” says RAND's Luke Matthews. For instance, consider that there have been at least four epidemics or pandemics since 1980 that stemmed from wildlife consumption, mixing wildlife with domestic stock, or poor animal husbandry practice. This suggests that it's time to change the relationship that people have with animals. Another lesson: Prepare for rare but high-impact events when things are calm. This applies to other challenges, such as the climate crisis.

Trial kits for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccination study at the Research Centers of America, in Hollywood, Florida, U.S., September 24, 2020, photo by Marco Bello/Reuters

Trial kits for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccination study at the Research Centers of America, Hollywood, Florida, September 24, 2020

Photo by Marco Bello/Reuters

A Case for Vaccinating Teachers First

There has been good news this month for COVID-19 vaccine trials. (Both Moderna and Pfizer announced their versions are 95 percent effective or better, and AstraZeneca has also reported promising results.) If one or more of these vaccines is approved, most Americans would agree that health care workers should receive them first. According to RAND experts, the nation's 3.3 million teachers should come next. This could help schools safely reopen for full-time, in-person learning more quickly. The social and economic benefits of this would likely outweigh reopening any other essential industry.

The hydroelectric dam Cachi in Ujarras de Cartago, 60 miles of San Jose, Costa Rica, May 25, 2007, photo by Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters

The hydroelectric dam Cachi in Ujarras de Cartago, near San Jose, Costa Rica, May 25, 2007

Photo by Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters

Costa Rica's Ambitious Plan to Fight Climate Change

Costa Rica's National Decarbonization Plan sets an ambitious goal: Become carbon-neutral by 2050. A new RAND report takes a look at this plan, analyzing more than 3,000 plausible futures. In all but 22 of these futures, the benefits outweighed the costs. That means that Costa Rica is likely to achieve its goals—and do so at a net economic gain. Conversely, without investing in decarbonization, the country's greenhouse gas emissions will increase substantially. The findings from this study may be valuable to other countries looking to implement carbon-reduction plans and reduce the effects of climate change.

Christina Bojorquez and Kimberly Decoursey pitch a tent in their encampment next to a freeway in Los Angeles, California, October 14, 2019, photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Christina Bojorquez and Kimberly Decoursey pitch a tent in their encampment next to a freeway in Los Angeles, California, October 14, 2019

Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Homeless Women in L.A. Need More Support

Homelessness is a critical problem in Los Angeles County. But it's important to note that people experiencing homelessness are not a monolith. That's why officials have designated homeless subpopulations—such as veterans, families, and unaccompanied youth—to better understand and meet their needs. As of September, LA County is including “unaccompanied women” (single women who are not caring for children or dependents) as a subpopulation. RAND experts say that this could provide a path toward better resources, which are needed to escape the perilous lifestyle associated with being a single, homeless woman.

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