Economic recovery hinges on more people trusting science

It has been one year since the coronavirus upended our lives and transformed our businesses. If you are reading this, you escaped the worst — though you likely know people who became ill; perhaps you became acquainted with COVID-19 personally or knew someone who succumbed to the virus. There have been more than 500,000 COVID-19 deaths in the United States since this all started.

If you participated in the Paycheck Protection Program, you served as a critical conduit between the federal government and the thousands of small businesses struggling to survive and keep employees on the payroll. PPP processing fees helped you build reserves to offset credit accommodations and loan defaults, though I expect you would have preferred to deploy this income differently. Alas, there’s no indication we are any closer to a sustained recovery than we were three months ago.

In our last edition, several economists shared their predictions for 2021, which ranged from “austerity” to “better than average GDP growth,” with everyone eyeing Washington and the next relief package. In an early February conversation with Minnesota lawmakers, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari cut right to the heart of the matter: “The virus is in charge of the economy.”

We know this to be true to our core. And yet there are a lot of people (many who work for you), who are not yet willing to say “yes” to one of the breakthrough COVID-19 vaccines. Concern over faltering demand for these vaccines is already being voiced by public health officials. This does not bode well for a swift or vigorous recovery. 

Hesitation is a consequence of fear, which itself is a consequence of limited access to trusted information. Fear also sprouts when people place their trust in falsehoods or allow themselves to be influenced by the anecdotal (the gossip) instead of understanding the science. Misinformation is tough to combat because of the pace by which it spreads. In the information age, misinformation takes on a life of its own, achieves sort of an immortality.

As leaders, we need to respect peoples’ fears and not cast a shadow of judgment over them as they grapple with the decision to vaccinate. We also need to fill in the information gap for employees (and community members) who cannot decide what, or whom, to trust. You already have peoples’ trust. 

In his book, “Across that Bridge: A Vision for Change and the Future of America,” late Congressman John Lewis wrote: “Study the path of others to make your way easier.” This month, we bring you the voices of community bankers who are grappling with how to encourage their teams to accept the vaccines. Each of them is driven by a shared vision for maintaining a safe workplace, moving their banks back to a semblance of normal operations, and getting the U.S. economy back on solid ground.