Listen: 2 national experts on the economic and health crisis in America

Two of the nation's most prominent experts on the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on the economy and our health spoke last Thursday at the Economic Club of Minnesota’s webinar called "Our Economy and Health in Crisis."

The speakers were Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. The event was moderated by Margaret Brennan, the host of CBS News "Face the Nation” on May 14.

Neel Kashkari wraps up the Regional Economic Conditions Conference.
Neel Kashkari
Ellen Schmidt | MPR News file

“We’re in the equivalent of an economic war and a health war,” Kashkari said, which may last a year or more. And a lot of families and businesses will need help.

“We need more checks … directly to people,” he added. "This affects not only people, but their communities.”

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People are in this bad situation through no fault of their own, Kashkari emphasized. “They did not take foolish risks.”

Osterholm said there’s a lot we don’t know about the coronavirus.

“We are not driving this tiger, we are riding it,” he said. “I’m of the belief that all models are wrong, but some may give you useful information.”

The virus will continue until there’s a vaccine, Osterholm said, “and it will transmit and will make sure it doesn’t miss anybody… We don’t know why some viruses go away, and then come back with a vengeance.”

He emphasized the importance of social distancing and said “now’s the time to be kind. Help people to stay out of harm’s way.”

Kashkari said the idea that we might have a “V-shaped economic recovery is off the table.”

He added, that until we have confidence about our personal safety, “this recovery is going to be muted.”

The pandemic is affecting wide swaths of American industry, Kashkari said. “But we do have to make sure we preserve the productive capacity of our economy. And that’s uniquely Congress’s ability to do that.”

“Stock pickers are wildly guessing” about what will happen, Kashkari said. “I want to listen to health experts, rather than investors.”

This will be long and drawn out, he added. Unemployment went up very fast, but it will come down much more slowly, he said, and “that’s where the real pain for families is.”

Michael Osterholm, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz
Michael Osterholm speaks as Gov. Tim Walz watches.
Glen Stubbe | AP

Osterholm said another serious problem is the supply chain situation in pharmaceuticals and other critical goods. We need to figure out how to address the changing world of manufacturing, he said.

Kashkari concluded the discussion with this thought: “We have tremendous fiscal capacity and if our elected officials continue to say we’re going to work together to do what’s necessary for the American people, that gives me great optimism. That as tough as this road may be, we are going to get through it and we will support one another to get through it, and come out and then put everybody back to work on the other side.”

Use the audio player above to hear the full discussion.