Pace Professors on How COVID-19 Changed Everything

By Lance Pauker

In March 2020, the modern world as we’ve come to know it screeched to a sudden, extraordinary halt. The COVID-19 pandemic is proving to be arguably the most devastating crisis of the 21st century, with far-reaching consequences that have fundamentally altered everything from our global economic system to going out and picking up coffee.

Given the unprecedented nature of the situation we find ourselves in, Pace professors across myriad fields have weighed in on how to make sense of COVID-19; from being on the front lines in an intensive care unit, to changing norms in screen time and parenting, to assessing the vast economic fallout wrought by the unexpected realities of this year.  

Here’s what they have to say…

Critical Care on the Frontlines

Ingrid Gunther, DNP, AGACNP-BC, FNP-CIngrid Gunther, DNP, AGACNP-BC, FNP-C
Clinical Associate Professor, Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program
College of Health Professions

I could feel my warm breath against my face and sweat dripping down my back as I stood at the side of my patient’s bed in my plastic gown, gloves, mask, and shield. I imagine, to a patient, this uniform limited the ability to forge a close human connection. As she took her last breath, I held her hand and watched as staff were running up and down the chaotic hallways outside. She would be one of many patients that would die without their loved ones there, holding the hand of a masked stranger instead. 

As a critical care nurse practitioner in an incredibly busy COVID-19 intensive care unit (ICU) in March and April of 2020, it was hard to find time to provide comfort to the dying, with an additional two hundred ICU patients to care for beyond the norm. I am bothered by this reality as I lie awake at night reliving these moments. 

Months later, I have yet to process the massive undertaking my colleagues and I endured to care for those sick with the virus. At the peak of the pandemic I can only compare providing medical and nursing care in the ICU to running on a hamster wheel—constant effort with minimal progress. 

As a medical community, we have tackled the steep learning curve of caring for patients with a new virus. We have gained a better understanding that helps us take better care of COVID-19 patients. However, the harsh reality is that we need not only knowledge, but also resources proportional to our patient load. I continue to show up to work to care for the critically ill patients with COVID-19 as I hope and pray that we can avoid a surge like earlier this year. As I continue to do my part, I urge you to continue to do yours; wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, and social distance. 

COVID and the Economy: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Todd Yarbrough, PhDTodd Yarbrough, PhD
Clinical Assistant Professor
Dyson College

Back in the spring, as COVID-19 was ravaging New York City, I wrote about what an appropriate fiscal and monetary response would be to the simultaneous supply and demand shocks being wrought on the US and global economies. I suggested COVID-19 was an existential challenge, so with one month left in 2020, a revisiting and reevaluation of our response is in order. 

The Good: The US Federal Reserve maintained its zero-interest rate targeting, financial assistance liquidity with quantitative easing, and forward guidance signaling expansionary monetary policy is here to stay. This has blunted some of the sharp pain from the ongoing recession. In March, Congress passed the CARES Act which totaled about $2 trillion, providing direct financial support to businesses, families, and state and local governments. The act provided a significant alleviation of the initial economic angst brought on by the pandemic, with the rate of savings actually rising and consumption not initially falling off a cliff.

The Bad: There is clear evidence policy has not done enough. Despite the pro-growth fiscal and monetary policies of the spring, unemployment still reached 14.7% in April with more than 30 million jobs lost during the peak of the downturn, a number that is substantially concentrated around low-wage workers. And while the unemployment rate has fallen back down to just below 7% as of October, there are still a full 10 million in the labor force without gainful employment. These numbers include a 4% contraction in state and local employment, with such agencies shedding nearly 2 million jobs during 2020. The rapid job gains that occurred during the summer also appear to be slowing down, and applications for unemployment insurance rose in November according to the US Labor Department. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities the percentage of households reporting difficulty obtaining food over the last 7 days jumped from 3.7% pre-pandemic to more than 12% as of November, a number representing more than 26 million Americans. Black and Latino families were more than twice as likely to report difficulty obtaining food during this time. The pandemic has also caused significant housing difficulties, with one in five adult renters not currently caught up on their rent and a full 10 million homeowners behind on their mortgages. As the calendar turns to December and the holiday season, one in three families report difficulty covering typical day-to-day expenses. It is also likely the pandemic will greatly exacerbate the already historically high levels of income inequality the US was facing. 

The Ugly: While the $2 trillion fiscal stimulus from March was tremendously helpful to millions of households, businesses, and state and local government, the persistent political intransigence since that initial act is beyond demoralizing. Because of congress's failure to shield the economy from the fallout of necessary limits to business activity, states have increasingly turned to "opening up" their respective economies. The result has been a sluggish recovery and a dramatic increase in both daily new cases and deaths from COVID-19 this fall reaching levels similar to the spring. 

I wrote back in March that governments should do everything in their power to limit the spread, because even with an "open" economy, a worsening pandemic situation would have its own severe economic consequences. In the US there is a tendency to focus squarely on the supply-side of the economy, with policymakers opting to ensure businesses are able to operate. However, the pandemic is also a large demand-side problem, and no amount of keeping businesses open can overcome the drag from woeful consumer demand. A restaurant can be open, but if people are avoiding going out and/or saving because of economic uncertainty, there is no economic benefit. By failing to limit the spread, especially in the early part of the fall, the US now runs a risk of a double dip recession regardless of whether businesses are allowed to operate even at pre-pandemic capacity.

My message is sadly the same as it was in the spring. We need more fiscal stimulus (at least $1.5 trillion), we need policymakers to step up and work to slow down the spread of COVID-19, and we need the citizens of this country to buy into this strategy. Otherwise, the economic recovery will sputter, people will become angrier and less willing to work together, and there will be many more deaths.

Technological Tradeoffs

Brenna Hassinger-Das, PhDBrenna Hassinger-Das, PhD
Assistant Professor of Psychology
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences
Follow Brenna on Twitter

As a children and media researcher, I have spent a lot of time since the COVID-19 pandemic began thinking about screen time. By April 2020, school closures affected 1.2 billion children worldwide—and research suggests that half of all US children are continuing to learn online this fall. Online learning platforms—such as Zoom, YouTube, and a variety of educational apps—have become ubiquitous for children from preschool through high school age. The educational landscape has shifted radically, and these changes may not go away anytime soon—if ever.

However, pre-pandemic, children were already using screen devices on an increasingly regular basis—with mobile device use tripling from 2013–2017. There has also been a rise in the amount of child-directed content that is available across multiple devices and platforms. Yet, I am of the belief that current data doesn’t conclusively suggest that screen time causes significant, detrimental effects in children. Research does suggest that behavioral and health problems may relate to excessive screen time—but causal connections are not clear. Based on my understanding of the literature, in March 2020, I advised caregivers of one screen time rule that it is okay to break (previous daily screen time limits), one rule caregivers can bend (most restrictions on where/when to use devices), and one to keep (screen-free bedtime).

I have tried to take my own advice as the pandemic wears on. As a pre-tenure faculty member and the mother of a six-year-old, I am now teaching on Zoom while my child completes virtual first grade. I definitely started making trade-offs regarding technology use that I would not have previously considered so that I can write and teach—with my child consuming far more digital media than usual. We have found a routine that works for us, and I supplement the screen time with hands-on and outdoor activities. I often explain to my child that this is not forever—but how do we really know? The uncertainty is one of the big factors that is causing a lot of stress for parents like myself, and I wish I had the answers.

Entrepreneurship During Times of Crisis

Bruce BachenheimerBruce Bachenheimer
Clinical Professor of Management and Executive Director, Entrepreneurship Lab
Lubin School of Business 

The great baseball philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "It's difficult to make predictions, especially about the future." That might sound somewhat inane, but the underlying message is astute: The future is not only unpredictable, it's unknowable. 

Although that is especially true when it comes to human behavior and societal norms—and so many variables are changing the way we teach, learn, worship and socialize these days—we can expect that innovative business concepts will be born out of the COVID-19 crisis. 

How do we know? Entrepreneurship is often associated with some form of disruption, the creation of a significant change in the market. There is perhaps no time more "ripe for disruption” than during a crisis.Airbnb and Uber were founded amid the 2008 financial crisis, and probably would not have succeeded if either was launched a few years earlier or later. Why? Ordinary people would not have been willing to turn their home into a hotel or their car into a taxi absent the financial distress they were facing. Same for customers, who were suddenly willing to sleep in a strangers bed and pay for a ride in a regular car. Once these concepts proved successful, they were able to become a new normal.

What innovative business concepts will be born out of the COVID-19 crisis? We’ll have to wait and see. But whats important to remember is that its not about making predictions or coming up with an interesting idea; its about the passion, persistence, and perseverance to actually make it happen. Remember what Yogi Berra said: "It aint over til its over."

Remote Tutoring in COVID-19 Times

Shobana Musti, PhDShobana Musti, PhD
Associate Professor
School of Education

Although it is too early to measure the true impact of remote learning on students’ academic learning, preliminary indications based on seasonal loss research indicate that students re-entered school in fall 2020 behind a full grade level. The academic losses brought about by the prolonged disruption of learning is referred to as the COVID-19 Slide (NWEA, 2020).

Practitioners and researchers in education are charged with the important task of identifying effective recovery practices that include providing students and families with the appropriate resources and supports during this pandemic. With the K–12 population opting between remote instruction and in-person instruction, questions that remain to be answered include: How do we provide students at-risk with the explicit, systematic, and intensive instruction that they need to perform at grade level? Who will deliver the supplemental instruction at the small-group or individual level?

Some of the answers to these questions can be found in strong school-university partnerships. Fortunately, the Paces School of Education (SOE) has been able to leverage partnerships with neighboring school districts to provide remote tutoring services for families. In the spring semester, 90 of Paces teachers in training conducted remote tutoring to K–12 students in a local school district. What would further enhance this initiative is training Pace students and community volunteers to implement evidence-based interventions via remote tutoring and in turn provide the systematic and intensive instruction that many at-risk students need to perform at grade level.

From a social justice standpoint, such a model seems like a win-win-win situation in which the university students gain meaningful and supervised field-based experience, school districts have additional personnel to deliver the instruction, and the K–12 students receive the much-needed supplemental instruction. This will require a lot of work and coordination on the part of the technology departments in school districts who are already overburdened and the university personnel trying to serve as liaison between the school district and the teachers in training. But its a doable endeavor, and we in the SOE have embarked on this important undertaking.

Although the current moment remains considerably volatile, perhaps such a model can provide some much-needed educational stability as we cautiously navigate this new normal.