Experts from the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs convened in an open Zoom webinar last Friday to discuss global health, politics and economics during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event featured four Jackson Senior Fellows with different areas of expertise — Harvard Medical School professor Vanessa Kerry ’99; former six-term Vermont Gov. Howard Dean ’71; former White House chief of staff John Podesta; and Stephen Roach, who is a former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia.
“Today, we need their expertise more than ever,” said Edward Wittenstein, deputy director for Jackson’s Leadership Programs and moderator of the conversation.
The forum was the first in a series of webinars the Jackson institute will host via Zoom to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 through the lens of global affairs. After Director of the Jackson Institute James Levinsohn introduced the panel, experts shared their insight on how the crisis developed as well as what should be done to attenuate current circumstances.
“COVID-19 is not just a health crisis. It’s an economic one, it’s a security crisis and really an existential crisis,” Kerry said. “We have not encountered a threat to all of humanity like this certainly for generations. … The ramifications of this aren’t just for today, here, now. Our lives are irrevocably changed by this.”
Kerry — who is also a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-founder and CEO of Seed Global Health, a nonprofit that lends training support to medical professionals in countries with limited resources — highlighted the effects of the pandemic upon the health sector. She will spend the upcoming weeks in the “front lines,” treating patients and experiencing the effects of the virus on the healthcare system firsthand.
According to Kerry, if the availability of medical supplies, life-sustaining devices and personal protective equipment continues to decline, sparsely resourced hospitals could become breeding grounds for catastrophic repercussions. She even pointed out that, in some hospitals, doctors have been limited to a single face mask for an entire day, which could increase the risk of contamination for patients and practitioners alike.
Kerry pointed out that the United States could have avoided its current predicament and regrets the country’s missed opportunity to learn from mistakes made in other regions struck first by the virus.
“We actually had an opportunity to see what was happening in China, and understood that in an age of globalization, and at a time when population is much more dense than it has ever been in human history, spread was inevitable,” she noted. “To have ever said that this was just going to go away was a complete failure of understanding of the scope of the problem.”
Podesta, who served as White House chief of staff while the Ebola outbreak was taking place in 2014 and 2015, pointed to the need for effective leadership while handling an emerging crisis. When asked about his thoughts on the lack of coherence in federal leadership, Podesta offered a variety of strategies — including increased attention to expert opinion and the dissemination of “credible information.”
Podesta also contrasted his experience in the White House during the Ebola outbreak with the current administration’s handling of this crisis. “Unlike Corona, Ebola had a 40 percent death rate. … There was panic for people returning from West Africa,” he said. Still, he said his experience made it evident that “if you have a serious level of command and control, you are listening to the experts, you are throwing resources early at a problem, you can get on top of it.”
Dean, who is also a physician and former presidential candidate, spoke to the differences in policies enacted on the federal and state levels, criticizing the lack of leadership in the White House.
Dean said economic outreach from the federal government will help individuals, but he added that the stimulus package approved by Congress is full of economically inefficient deals. Nevertheless, he thinks it could soften the economic blow dramatically in terms of unemployment, especially within small business communities, which he thinks have been “completely decimated” in this crisis.
“I am in one of the lockdown states,” Dean said. “As a small-business state, the economy is going to be completely destroyed. The school system is also going to be destroyed.”
Roach, former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, shared his views on the likely macroeconomic aftermath of the crisis. He pointed out that because the cause of the crash today distinguishes itself from the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, it requires different fiscal and monetary solutions.
“We have listened over and over that we don’t want the cure to be worse than the disease itself,” Roach said, “I think the conclusion is pretty straightforward. There can’t be a cure if we send people back to work prematurely.”
Roach pointed to the double-sidedness of the economic stimulus package on the macroeconomic level. On one side, he said he celebrates the scope of the $2.3 trillion piece of legislation, but on the other side, he fears that it does not solve the current economic recession in the long run.
Even though the world may face severe hardship in the coming weeks, Podesta is optimistic that people will help each other through this by overcoming physical distance through social connection.
“I think one of the worst terms ever coined was social distancing. … We need social solidarity,” he said.
The next forum in this webinar series will be livestreamed via Zoom this Friday at 5 p.m., and will feature the participation of Stanley McChrystal, a former United States army general, in a discussion about leadership in crisis.
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