This week on Facing the Future, Concord Coalition Communications Director Av Harris, National Field Director Phil Smith’ and I spoke with Dr. Jodie Guest, an epidemiologist and professor at the School of Public Health and Medicine at Emory University in Atlanta for an update on where we are with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Later on in the program, Tori Gorman and I spoke with Rachel Snyderman, Associate Director of the Economic Policy Project with the Bipartisan Policy Center, about the looming debt ceiling crisis.
Why is the Concord Coalition discussing the pandemic? Because nothing has affected our economy and federal budget more than COVID-19 in the last two years. We have done periodic updates on the pandemic with Dr. Guest, who also serves as an advisor to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As cases are rising again across the country and concerns are mounting about the potential impact of the new Omicron variant. Dr. Guest says she did not think we would be in the position of continuing to see more than 1,000 Americans dying every day from COVID nearly two years after it first hit.
“I am super tired of this virus, but that does not mean the virus is done with us,” said Dr. Guest. “Frankly, us being tired of it and pretending like it doesn’t exist is the reason why we still have so much of it in the United States. We are not coalescing around the idea that my infection is important to you and your infection is important to me, and we are all in this together. That’s why we are still battling this, and that’s why the United States still is having the highest number of cases per population in the entire world.”
Guest says information about the new omicron variant is still very preliminary, “What we don’t know yet is how well the vaccines work, and we do not know for sure yet how severe illness might be with this and how transmissible it is, but we are getting some signals. And the signals start with transmissibility. It does appear that this is a very transmissible variant. If it’s more transmissible than Delta or not – we don’t have that answer fully yet. But we are getting very clear information that people who had natural infection and some level of immunity from that are very likely to be reinfected with this particular variant. So the natural antibodies that you may have gotten from being infected before do not appear to be particularly protective with this. Which is why vaccines continue to be such an important conversation.”
Guest says one of the biggest challenges prolonging the COVID-19 pandemic is lingering skepticism in the population about getting vaccinated against the virus.
“I really think the best way to approach people who have not yet gotten vaccinated is to ask what their questions are. So instead of me pouring information at them, I would rather know what’s your reason? What is your ‘why?’ for why you’re still hesitant and not certain about vaccines? And then that gives me a place to go, and it’s more of a conversation. I really do believe that each individual conversation matters… I really care when I am in a community that everyone there is protected and I have no ulterior motive other than I want us to all move forward out of this, so I care what their ‘why’ is. So when you lead with that, I think you get further.”
In our debt limit discussion, Snyderman said the current bickering over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling and the constant crisis over whether the government is going to default on its debt service payments are extremely counterproductive to stable economic growth.
“If the United States government finds itself in a position where it is unable to pay all of its bills in full and on time, that could have massive repercussions for American taxpayers and the global economy,” said Snyderman. “Families who depend on and interact with the government on a daily basis - whether receiving their pay - as military service members, government employees, veterans and retired civil service employees - or who receive their benefits from the federal government, such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security could see those payments missed and could immediately face severe income shocks. This could really send financial markets around the world tumbling.”
Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL in Concord N.H., and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders, and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook, and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.