Special Edition  |  COVID-19 Update  |  May 15, 2020
A closed playground in London. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls


How local governments can get through the crisis and beyond

Two Harvard Kennedy School scholars are offering strategy checklists for municipal governments to make sure their budgets survive the fiscal impact of COVID-19. Linda Bilmes, senior lecturer in public policy, provided “a guide for city budgets” to hundreds of mayors and local officials at a virtual session of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative. She outlined three sets of guidance on local budgeting during the pandemic—how to respond, stabilize, and transform. Also, Stephen Goldsmith, professor of the practice of urban policy (and a former mayor himself), provided a checklist of effective strategies for long-term fiscal management during the crisis. Goldsmith outlined a series of steps, including: “transition to a culture relentlessly focused on data” and “use lateral benchmarking to drive innovation and performance.”



“How CEOs can lead with empathy during COVID-19,” Adjunct Lecturer Jane Nelson, director, Corporate Responsibility Initiative


Study finds media have blown anti-lockdown protests out of proportion

Research by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Erica Chenoweth and other scholars finds that media coverage has been out of proportion to the actual scale of the recent protests in some U.S. states calling for immediate reopening of the economy. The findings, reported by the researchers in an article in Vox, show the protests against social distancing to have been small both in numbers of participants and events—245 protests logged during all of April and early May. In contrast, there were far more anti-Trump protests in many single days than all the #reOpen protests combined, but with far less coverage in mainstream media. The researchers’ explanation? One factor was the protesters’ prominent display of weapons and their use of militaristic rhetoric, which may have led reporters to project outsized influence and political impact for what the researchers regard as a dangerous fringe movement with little public support. Chenoweth is a professor in human rights and international affairs based in the School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.



The question is, do you go for a gradual process where everybody gets sick and you'll probably get a death rate that will be perceived as socially disastrous and unacceptable? Or do we really wait it out until the vaccine?

Ricardo Hausmann, professor of the practice of international political economy and founder and director of the Growth Lab, speaking on PolicyCast


Weighing costs and health impacts of range of COVID-19 responses

Soroush Saghafian, assistant professor of public policy, studies ways to improve health care management through the lens of operations research. Since the pandemic struck, he’s been working with the government of Bahrain to assess the effectiveness of potential policy responses. He captured the research in an HKS working paper and explains it in this Q&A. Saghafian looked at sets of policy options adopted over time in Bahrain and other countries, ranging from no intervention to closing schools, malls, and retail stores to near-complete shutdown. He developed models to predict infection rates, hospital bed demand, and death rates for each of 10 policy scenarios. He finds there are tradeoffs in health costs vs. quality of life benefits for each one—and suggests that a measured approach, such as suspending some businesses for four months, can deliver significant health improvements at a relatively low cost.

Percentage of women who are heads of state—many of whom have emerged as effective global leaders in pandemic crisis response.

Professor of Practice Wendy Sherman, director of HKS Center for Public Leadership, on leadership in the COVID-19 era, Wiener Conference Calls


Students grapple with pandemic responses in policy exercise

First-year Master of Public Policy students at the Kennedy School all do a two-week activity called Spring Exercise (SPREX), in which small teams tackle real-life problems. Eric Rosenbach, lecturer in public policy and co-director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, had long planned to focus his students on a fictional pandemic similar to the Ebola outbreak. When COVID-19 hit, he and the students pivoted this year’s SPREX to the real thing. Working via Zoom, they crafted policy solutions to four coronavirus-driven crises: reopening U.S. public schools; assisting migrant workers in New Delhi; opening travel to the United States; and identifying options for developing countries. Those ideas have been shared with city and international organizations. Wendy Sherman, professor of the practice of public leadership, said “students felt like they learned real, practical, professional skills, grounded in theory.”



Dani Rodrik, professor of public policy, writing in Project Syndicate: "Insofar as the world economy was already on a fragile, unsustainable path, COVID-19 clarifies the challenges we face and the decisions we must make. In each of these areas, policymakers have choices. Better and worse outcomes are possible. The fate of the world economy hinges not on what the virus does, but on how we choose to respond.”


  • Will a global depression trigger another world war? [Stephen Walt] Foreign Policy

  • Americans should actually give a damn about the rest of the world [Wendy Sherman] The Hill

  • An abysmal failure of leadership [Joseph Nye] Project Syndicate

  • Women leaders eschew ’macho-man politics in COVID-19 response [Zoe Marks] PRI

  • Our stories keep loved one’s memories alive [Jeffrey Seglin] Chicago Tribune

  • Breaking down April’s unprecedented job loss numbers amid the pandemic [Jason Furman] MSNBC

  • How fear and anger change our perception of coronavirus risk [Jennifer Lerner] ScienceNews

This newsletter will arrive weekly during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you do not wish to receive these weekly updates, please click "update your preferences" below.
Insight. Policy. Action. Ideas from Harvard Kennedy School.

Copyright © 2020 Harvard Kennedy School, all rights reserved.

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.