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Harvard Social Policy Expert Talks COVID-19 and Economic, Social Policy

Harvard Kennedy School professor David J. Deming is the faculty director of the Wiener Center for Social Policy.
Harvard Kennedy School professor David J. Deming is the faculty director of the Wiener Center for Social Policy. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Esat C. Bayar and Hannah J. Martinez, Contributing Writers

Harvard Kennedy School professor David J. Deming discussed the epidemiological and economic impacts of COVID-19 in an online webinar Thursday afternoon with nearly 200 attendees.

Deming, the faculty director of the Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Kennedy School, based his talk on existing research on the disease’s symptoms, its economic consequences, and efforts to minimize its spread across the globe.

He credited the danger of COVID-19 to its high mortality rate and tendency to be asymptomatic — factors that are exacerbated by the lack of adequate testing, irresponsible social behavior, and insufficient medical supplies in many countries around the world.

“Like everyone else, I was really anxious about what was going on,” Deming said in an interview before the webinar. “I lived through the recession, I lived through 9/11, and this is the most traumatic thing that’s ever happened in my memory.”

Deming stressed the importance of testing throughout his talk, noting that testing in the United States falls short when compared to that of other developed countries.

“We were not only not testing people, we were only testing people who had severe symptoms. But also, the CDC required that in order to be administered a test, you had to have a known connection to someone who tested positive,” Deming said.

“It is sort of a catch-22 because if you don’t test anybody, you don’t know where the connections are,” he added.

Deming also discussed the main symptoms of COVID-19, which range from a dry cough to severe pneumonia, and compared the disease’s mortality rate to that of seasonal influenza.

“Is this more deadly than the flu? The answer is yes, it’s much more deadly than the flu,” Deming said.

COVID-19 has an estimated 2.3 percent mortality rate — though the rate differs greatly among age groups — compared to a 0.1 percent mortality rate for seasonal influenza.

During a question and answer session after the presentation, one attendee asked whether public health would receive more attention in the future.

“If history is a guide, we probably will learn the narrow lesson, which is we need to be more prepared for a global pandemic, but we will probably not learn the broader lesson, which is that the world is highly uncertain and unpredictable things can happen,” Deming said.

As the pandemic continues to spread across the world, Deming emphasized the importance of immediate action in “flattening the curve.”

“I just hope and pray, honestly, that we can pull that off in the U.S. and in every other nation in the world,” he said. “I think it’s urgent — it makes the difference between 100,000 people and a million people dying.”

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