U-M experts imagine aspects of life, lessons learned after coronavirus
As public debate and discourse continue on how fast society should reopen in the wake of COVID-19, it’s also worth asking some other questions: What should life be like after the pandemic passes? What are ways that we can as a culture resume a more normal life, and, perhaps, come out ahead with lessons learned from this crisis?
Experts from across University of Michigan weigh in with insightful responses that are part prescription and prediction, as well as a healthy mix of reality and aspiration.
Paolo Pasquariello, professor of finance, Ross School of Business
“The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to leave permanent scars on our society, many of which are of course regrettable. Yet, there may be one we may not regret at all, namely the end of short-
termism. Short-termism is one of the biggest behavioral biases usually displayed by individuals, firm managers and politicians. It is the notion that economic agents often make choices motivated by short-term gain (pecuniary, emotional or otherwise) at the expense of long-term benefits. In other words, it is the fable of the ant and the grasshopper.
“Short-termism can explain protest voting by individuals, excessive corporate focus on quarterly earnings or underinvestment by governments. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that these behaviors are inefficient and have likely contributed both to the spread of the contagion and to the severity of its consequences. Simply put, we were found collectively unprepared to deal with the biggest challenge of the new century, as grasshoppers in the winter after a summer of dancing. I truly hope that going forward our individual and collective ethos, scarred by the trauma of these dramatic days, will approach that of the ant’s. At least for a brief moment.”
“When the pandemic and its associated anxieties recede, the United States must take a hard look at its approach to biomedical research and development and health care. The private sector is the backbone of the U.S. approach; we tend to believe that it creates the incentives to produce better and faster innovation. But this crisis has demonstrated that we need steady and proactive leadership and coordination from the federal government in order to efficiently manage infectious diseases, including putting large diagnostic testing systems into place. Competition hurts us when it comes to infectious disease management. This crisis has also shown us that in order to ensure the public’s health, we need to ensure access to essential technologies. To do this we need to reform our intellectual property laws and policies.”
Rashmi Menon, entrepreneur in residence and lecturer in entrepreneurial studies and business administration, Ross School of Business
“As with any large disruption, the post-COVID time provides opportunities for innovation and new companies to form and thrive. Trends that began before the virus will likely accelerate after the
virus, such as more online learning and more remote working. While Zoom has become popular for video conferencing during the virus, as more people use video conferencing software, more needs will arise in this space, such as this ability to interact in deeper ways using virtual or augmented reality. Customer segments will also start to form, as the needs of an instructor teaching an 80-person class are different from a person trying to lead a 10-person strategy meeting in a company. New companies will form to serve these needs and this space, like many others, will be transformed.”
Jonathan Overpeck, dean, School for Environment and Sustainability
“While it’s important not to trivialize all the human suffering associated with this virus, there are key lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and the observed drop in pollution levels.
First and foremost is the fact that climate-change action will by definition eliminate most of the pollution-causing fossil fuel burning. It is clear that environment and sustainability challenges are bigger than ever, both in the U.S. and around the planet. We need to use this opportunity to rededicate ourselves to doing more, working harder and ensuring that we leave future generations an environment that is better than the one we inherited. This means stopping climate change before it stops us.”
Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, professor of management and organizations, Ross School of Business
“I do see good odds that we’ll see an increase in social awkwardness and decreases in social-emotional and collective intelligence. One of the biggest predictors of our ability to succeed in deeply collaborative work is our ability to be attuned to subtle nonverbal cues of others. There is research showing such attunement weakens with an increase in screen time and
decrease in social interactions. Though in the long-term, this will subside, it may be worth mindfully planning how to manage our transition to ‘normal.’ Biological fears do not subside quickly or easily. How will we react when a close neighbor or friend comes in for a hug?
“There is also an interesting convergence of social processes that may exacerbate this. At precisely the same time we are required to practice physical distancing, our innate need for ‘social affiliation’ urges us to be physically close to others. This tension underlies part of the anxiety and stress people are feeling. Social affiliation refers to the phenomenon where people become motivated to seek close contact with others under conditions of fear/uncertainty/anxiety.”
Jaclynn Hawkins, assistant professor, School of Social Work
“In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, community-based agencies, researchers and healthcare systems will have the unique opportunity to translate many of the pandemic-related health and
health care practices into other areas, specifically those related to chronic illness. These activities include mass community education, more accurately and purposefully tracking chronic illness diagnoses in families and communities and using that information to engage in both prevention and treatment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen communities, academics, for-profit and nonprofit agencies, and health care systems come together and mobilize to flatten the curve in a powerful and transformative way. It will be critical for us to preserve and utilize this network. Out of chaos and sorrow, perhaps we can bring about some meaningful change.”
Terri Friedline, associate professor, School of Social Work
“Access to the financial system is necessary for full and dignified participation in today’s economy. However, the coronavirus outbreak has painfully exposed the inequalities and inadequacies of
our existing financial system. Families without bank accounts are waiting weeks or months to receive the money they need today. Banks are garnishing stimulus checks to pay overdue overdraft fees, leaving less money for families to buy groceries and pay bills. We must imagine and create a new financial system that prioritizes people over profits. Fortunately, policy ideas already exist that are immediately actionable, such as free checking accounts, public banking, real-time payments, and strong regulatory oversight. We need the courage to enact these and even bolder policy ideas for creating a more equitable and democratized financial system.”
Christopher Friese, professor of nursing, School of Nursing; professor of health management and policy, School of Public Health
“It’s important to understand this is wave one of this pandemic. Without a dramatic shift in testing availability, reliable antibody testing, and highly efficacious treatments and vaccines, COVID-19 will be in our communities for some time. Health care workers will remain at higher risk for infection, which threatens our health system’s capacity to respond. Sick health
care workers will result in more deaths. We must redouble efforts to secure an adequate quantity and quality of personal protective equipment and it must happen now. Our society must remain vigilant and attentive to public health officials’ guidance when additional outbreaks occur.
“Beyond that, I am hopeful that the good will expressed toward health care workers and first-line responders will result in federal investment in next-generation PPE. We have had the same equipment for over two decades. It’s time for PPE in health care to be safe and effective, comfortable, reusable and easy to manufacture anywhere. We also need better tracking of health care worker exposures, infections and deaths. If we don’t monitor and protect health care workers, many more will suffer needlessly from COVID-19 and future pandemics. Finally, this pandemic has affirmed for me the imperative to link structural problems in society with health. With COVID-19 we saw how factors such as housing insecurity, job instability, transportation issues, social isolation, lack of insurance, etc., were associated with higher infection rates and deaths. If we don’t address the structural factors that make health care hard to get in this country, we’ll repeat the tragic mistakes of COVID-19 when the next pandemic occurs.”
Deena Kelly Costa, assistant professor of nursing, School of Nursing
“Many governors have smartly suspended scope of practice restrictions for advanced practice nurses to increase the capacity of the nursing workforce to care for patients. Moving forward, passing
legislation to permanently suspend these restrictions would allow the public to reap the most benefit from advanced practice nurses. If these restrictions are eliminated when the next pandemic or natural disaster occurs, the public health community will be much better prepared to address the needs of patients in the community and the acute care setting. The pandemic has demonstrated how important nursing is in promoting public health and preventing disease, and how integral we are to the health care team. It would be wise to continue to allow nursing, and specifically advanced practice nurses, to demonstrate their ability to care for patients and the public by eliminating scope of practice restrictions post-pandemic.”
Sue Anne Bell, assistant professor of nursing, School of Nursing
“We’ve long responded to disasters and emergencies from a reactive approach, rather than a proactive approach. I heard someone describe this as ‘trying to fix a plane while flying it’—we are
definitely trying to come up with solutions in the middle of this, instead of leaning into planning that was done in advance. If we can learn anything from this, it would be for communities, states and the nation to take strong steps now to become more prepared for—and resilient to—the next disaster that will come our way, for there surely will be another one.”
Geoffrey Hoffman, assistant professor of nursing, School of Nursing
“As communities reopen, the cracks in our public health system and management of care for older adults will have been exposed. Implementing novel, low-tech approaches could address social isolation and physical deconditioning from months of activity restriction. Caring for older adults even outside an epidemic should more typically be an all-community affair. Why not ramp up what already works: intergenerational exchanges through volunteerism or reimbursed programs that link younger and older adults. The financial and emotional benefits could be immeasurable. ”
Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean, School of Education
“When the immediate public health danger has passed, teachers and administrators will welcome back millions of students. Some of our nation’s children and youth will have experienced trauma in their households due to death, illness, poverty and anxiety. Each child will have different educational needs after a prolonged time away from the classroom. Our nation’s educators will snap into action to meet these needs with differentiated instruction and attention to socio-emotional learning.
“We must reevaluate our views on and approaches to assessing student learning. We set the standards, which means that we can re envision what counts as student success and growth. In a perfect post-COVID world, we will not think of our children as ‘behind,’ but will rather use this circumstance to develop new ways of engaging with students who bring a wide range of experiences, knowledge, and skills to a learning setting. Educators, who have shown flexibility and creativity, will develop a new relationship with educational technology tools, together with a better understanding of the ideas, skills, and practices that can be taught remotely and those that simply cannot thrive without the face-to-face interaction of actual people in classrooms or other learning settings.”
Mary Jo Callan, director, U-M Edward Ginsberg Center
“The scope of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clearer than ever before that the sustainability and vitality of esteemed research universities are fully interconnected with our surrounding
communities. We are more aware that we are not separate from the myriad constituencies and communities in which we exist and claim to serve, and that our aspirations of diversity, equity, and inclusion can only be achieved through decisions and actions that embrace the permeability of campus boundaries. We must sustain this awareness beyond this crisis.
“We see hopeful signs that the magnitude—and proximity—of human suffering and uncertainty caused by COVID-19 has sufficiently shocked us into a clearer understanding that we share a common fate. Our campus colleagues are engaging to partner with civic and community organizations in new ways that can have a powerful and lasting impact. Sustaining this shift will enable us to become institutions that fully live up to the public’s trust; institutions that not only discover and translate new knowledge to benefit society broadly but also where all forms of scholarship are more fully rooted in and driven by the community partners on the front lines of the most pressing and urgent social concerns we seek to address.”
Matthew VanBesien, president, University Musical Society
“There’s the economic impact component that is concerning and will be potentially devastating for many organizations, but there is also the ‘operational’ piece—the way in which art forms are both
delivered and consumed. Without being overly optimistic, I think that the sector needed some disruption in this area and it is forcing us to really think about our audiences, about the ways that we collaborate with artists and other institutions; about issues of access; and the use of digital media. When things are ok—or ‘normal’—it is really hard to make those changes, even though we know they should be made. It is going to require organizational agility, dynamic thinking, and some real ingenuity throughout all of next year—and likely beyond—to get through it.
“We’re pouring our energy now into preparing to create an environment that’s safe for everyone from a public health standpoint, but that’s dynamic and still allows for artists and audiences to have great artistic experiences together. Some performances may come off as originally intended, many will not. We’re looking at the possibility of decreased audience sizes, either from public health mandates or demand, increasing the number of performances and activities that an artist offers while they’re here in Michigan, and we’re looking at making digital experiences available if people might not feel comfortable coming into a venue.
Christina Olsen, director, U-M Museum of Art
“The reality is that many, many museums are going to be impacted financially for a long time. Some will take years to recover, some will go under, and others might have to completely contract or adjust to very different kinds of programs for a long time. However, one of the silver linings that I have seen over the last five weeks is that institutions, museums, libraries and other cultural organizations are really coming together and working together because we have to. I have been talking weekly with all the museum directors of other Big Ten universities, and we’re talking about broad shared marketing strategies, collections sharing initiatives to save money, and producing collective exhibitions when we eventually open.
“I think we’ll hang on to this collaborative spirit in recognition of this shared cultural experience we’ve all gone through together and also in response to a reality that we may have empty galleries when we return because we can’t afford to do those shows anymore or because we haven’t been in the building to make the show. I think you’re going to see museums trying to invent new forms of revenue. For example, MoMA has been producing courses with Coursera now. So you can take a MoMA class on contemporary art and it’s free unless you want to want a certificate. And if you want a certificate, then you pay for it, which is one of the Coursera models. I think we’ll also start to see museums start to operate more like brands do—offering a spectrum of experiences. We’ve seen this, but I think we’ll start to see this at a level that we haven’t before.”