Pandemic-Era Parties, China's Global Influence, Reducing Infant Mortality: RAND Weekly Recap

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July 2, 2021

We discuss the risk of small gatherings during the pandemic; how China exerts influence around the world; using big data to help reduce infant mortality; what to do if remote learning continues after COVID-19 has passed; first-hand accounts of radicalization and deradicalization; and how to implement college programs in prisons.

Lydia Hassebroek hands out candy to classmates at her birthday party in Brooklyn, New York, July 12, 2020, photo by Caitlin Ochs/Reuters

Photo by Caitlin Ochs/Reuters

How Risky Are Small Gatherings During the Pandemic?

America has seen nearly 33.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 602,000 deaths. This high toll may be partly due to informal social gatherings that have not been subject to state and local restrictions.

To learn more about the risk of small gatherings during the pandemic, a new RAND study looked at whether COVID-19 rates increase in households in which a member recently had a birthday.

The study, which covers the period between January and November of 2020, shows that in counties where COVID-19 transmission was high, the likelihood of infection in a household increased by about 30 percent in the two weeks after a household birthday. That's compared with households in the same county that did not have a birthday.

These findings highlight an important tension of the COVID-19 era. Social gatherings are a fabric for families and society as a whole. But in high-risk areas, they can also inflame the pandemic and expose households to COVID-19 infections. When designing disease-mitigation policies, policymakers should consider these risks.

Earth partially covered by Chinese Yuan, image by Stephen Finn/Adobe Stock

Image by Stephen Finn/Adobe Stock

How China Exerts Influence

China's mammoth economic power is its most effective source of influence in countries around the world. That's according to a new RAND report. The second-most-effective source of influence: Beijing's targeted, often clandestine outreach to leaders, elites, and opinion-shapers in certain countries. However, the report's findings also suggest that, in the strategic competition for influence, the United States remains in a strong position relative to China.

Alysia Davis while pregnant with her husband, photo courtesy of Alysia Davis

Alysia Davis, a Pittsburgh resident, is a public health specialist. When she and her husband were planning a family, she worried about the risks she faced as a Black woman

Photo courtesy of Alysia Davis

Using Big Data to Help Reduce Infant Mortality

Black babies born in the United States are more than twice as likely to die in their first year as white babies. In Pittsburgh, this disparity is even more stark: three or four white babies—and 15 Black babies—die before they turn 1. To learn more about the root of this problem, RAND researchers analyzed data points on more than 150,000 births in the Pittsburgh area. This allowed them to estimate individual risk levels—and identify services and supports that could save a child's life.

Lilliana works on her reading exercises while attending virtual school, in Louisville, Kentucky, February 24, 2021, photo by Amira Karaoud/Reuters

Lilliana works on her reading exercises while attending virtual school in Louisville, Kentucky, February 24, 2021

Photo by Amira Karaoud/Reuters

What To Do if Remote Learning Is Here to Stay

Remote instruction has not gone particularly well amid COVID-19. And yet, roughly one-third of schools plan to keep it as an option going forward. If remote schooling does continue, RAND experts say that there are ways to prevent it from widening racial and income inequities—and to ensure remote instruction translates into remote learning. These include expanding broadband internet, boosting instructional time for remote students, and using high-quality remote curricula.

Protesters gather during the Indiana Stop Asian Hate Rally on Monument Circle in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 27, 2021, photo by USA Today Network via Reuters

A sign held by a protester during a Stop Asian Hate rally in Indianapolis, Indiana, March 27, 2021

Photo by USA Today Network via Reuters

First-Hand Accounts of Radicalization and Deradicalization

Violent extremism has become a serious and complex threat in the United States. As part of the nationwide effort to better understand it and prevent it, RAND researchers interviewed former extremists, as well as their families and friends. Their responses offer insights into who's at greater risk for radicalization, how individuals are recruited into extremist groups, why people decide to leave these organizations, and more.

Inmates search for books at a library inside the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary located in the Darrington Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison in Rosharon, Texas, August 12, 2014

Inmates search for books at a library inside the Darrington unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice men's prison, Rosharon, Texas, August 12, 2014

Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

Implementing College Programs in Prisons

Each year, more than 700,000 incarcerated adults return to local communities. These individuals face significant challenges when competing for jobs, especially considering that two-thirds of job postings require some level of college education. That's why RAND researchers created a new toolkit to help prison officials develop high-quality college educational programs for inmates. The tool is free and is relevant for both two-year and four-year programs.

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