Reopening the U.S. Economy, Geoengineering, 5G: RAND Weekly Recap

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May 28, 2021

We discuss whether the United States is declaring freedom from COVID-19 too soon; students' learning experiences during the pandemic; the risks of using geoengineering to counteract the effects of climate change; why 5G isn't a race; how to increase access to SNAP; and a new U.S. health innovation agency.

A healthcare worker holds syringes with COVID-19 vaccines at a vaccination center, in El Paso, Texas, May 6, 2021, photo by Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

Photo by Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

Will the U.S. Declare Freedom from COVID-19 Too Soon?

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced a new goal: 160 million Americans fully vaccinated by July 4. To understand what might happen if this target is reached—or if vaccination rates fall short—RAND researchers simulated thousands of scenarios of how the pandemic could unfold.

Fully reopening the economy before this vaccination goal is met doubled the average number of COVID-19 deaths between Independence Day and the end of 2021. Nearly all of these projected deaths came from the unvaccinated population. Additionally, surges in cases and deaths were more probable, more severe, and occurred earlier.

In other words, vaccinating 160 million people by July 4 could save tens of thousands of American lives. But many uncertainties remain. State and local policymakers may need to consider tempering reopening plans based on vaccination progress in their communities.

Young student participates in school remotely, photo by Sasha_Suzi/Getty Images

Photo by Sasha_Suzi/Getty Images

America's Schools May Be on Two Different Paths

A new RAND study found that remote schooling was associated with fewer instructional opportunities and potentially poorer student outcomes compared with in-person learning. Remote instruction was also more common among schools that serve higher percentages of students of color and low-income students. If remote instruction continues after the pandemic, then America's schools may be headed down diverging and inequitable pathways.

A Chinese meteorological department worker burns catalyst for cloud seeding and snowmaking to end drought in Beijing, China, February 17, 2009, photo by Oriental Image via Reuters

A Chinese meteorological department worker burns catalyst for cloud seeding and snowmaking, aiming to help end a drought in Beijing, February 17, 2009

Photo by Oriental Image via Reuters

The Risks of Using Geoengineering to Address Climate Change

In 2009, a Chinese weather bureau sought to end a drought by firing sticks of silver iodide into the sky. This led to massive snowfall and highway closures. This example highlights just one risk of geoengineering—the large-scale manipulation of environmental processes in order to counteract the effects of climate change. As the prospect of using geoengineering grows, a new RAND paper examines the geopolitical risks it poses and how to manage them.

5G network over earth, image by LHG/Getty Images

Image by LHG/Getty Images

5G Is Not a Race

A theme running through discussions about the 5G era is that this is a race. Further, some government and industry leaders have said that countries finishing first will dominate all others. But according to RAND experts, the development of 5G markets and technologies is less of a race than an “enduring competition” across several areas: technical, economic, security, and privacy. Notably, past technical or market leadership does not guarantee a lasting advantage in the 5G era, they say.

Woman walking by a convenience store with signs indicating acceptance of WIC and food stamps in Chelsea, Massachusetts, April 16, 2020, photo by Keiko Hiromi/Reuters

A woman walks by a convenience store that accepts WIC and SNAP in Chelsea, Massachusetts, April 16, 2020

Photo by Keiko Hiromi/Reuters

A Chance to Improve Food Assistance

More than six million additional people turned to SNAP, better known as food stamps, to eat during the pandemic. This increase was facilitated in part by temporary changes that made it easier to sign up for and use the program. Making these rules permanent could make nutrition benefits more accessible to America's Black, Latino, and Indigenous households, which disproportionately face hunger. “It could be a start to increased racial equity in SNAP,” says RAND's Sameer Siddiqi.

The “LUKE” prosthetic arm developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, photo by DARPA

The “LUKE” prosthetic arm, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency

Photo by DARPA

A New Health Innovation Agency?

The White House recently announced its vision for an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H. This new agency—which would be modeled after DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency—would pursue groundbreaking research to develop cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's, cancer, and diabetes. According to RAND experts, if ARPA-H is funded, then its success may depend on a number of factors, including limits placed on researchers, the agency's tolerance for failure, and public transparency.

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