Yale’s Tobin Center Channels Research into Action

David DominikWhen COVID-19 arrived in the United States last year, it upended life in extraordinary ways. Essential workers donned PPE and braved the front lines, while many others avoided group settings that could spread the virus.

Nursing home residents were particularly vulnerable, bearing the brunt of the virus that seemingly spread like wildfire throughout facilities across the country. Tragically, by June, 43 percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the US occurred in these long-term care facilities, despite bans on visitation. Why?

Judith Chevalier ’89, the William S. Beinecke Professor of Finance and Economics, discovered that staff sharing was a significant driver of infection. Using smartphone location data to track staff movement between facilities, Chevalier and other researchers found that eliminating shared staff arrangements could reduce infection by 44 percent. This research has informed government leaders on ways to protect facility residents and staff, thanks to Yale’s Tobin Center for Economic Policy, which helped fund the study.

Profile in leadership

A nonpartisan enterprise, the Tobin Center advances data-driven research intended to inform Yale’s Tobin Center policymaking and have an impact on society. Its mission took on new importance in March 2020, as the center pivoted to focus on pandemic response work. Insights from economics and the social sciences are central to pandemic policy, and researchers at the Tobin Center raced to disseminate timely information to both the government and media.

This work caught the attention of David Dominik, founder of the Emerald Gate Foundation and one of the Tobin Center’s earliest supporters. As the pandemic grew, Dominik made a gift to sustain the center’s efforts, enabling the launch of the COVID -19 Policy Lab. Dominik’s support provided full funding for one year, making it possible for the lab to expand its work and meet the needs of policymakers and members of the media looking to Yale for insights and evidence-based guidance on the pandemic. Dominik is an advisor to Yale’s endowment and has previously contributed to several initiatives led by the university’s chief investment officer, David Swensen ’80 PhD.

“The world is depending on the groundbreaking work coming out of institutions like Yale,” says Dominik. “I am proud to have helped launch the COVID -19 Policy Lab through funding from the Emerald Gate Foundation and see the immediate positive impact its researchers have had on influencing effective policy to steer us out of this crisis.”

Looking to the future

Since launching, the COVID -19 Policy Lab has facilitated nearly two dozen projects and initiatives. Its work has shown that $600 weekly payments (in addition to unemployment benefits) do not discourage people from returning to lower-paid work—research garnering hundreds of media hits, citations by the US Congress, and endorsements by think tanks across the political spectrum. It sponsored research showing that childcare centers do not pose significant risk to providers, considered the most widely recognized research on the topic. Faculty members have advised state leaders on ways to minimize waiting periods for those seeking unemployment insurance, and the lab has partnered with historically Black colleges and universities to help their campuses reopen.

Today, the lab continues to invest in research and deliver insights and actionable policy recommendations aimed at mitigating the virus’s impact. Vaccination efforts signal welcome progress, but as the Tobin Center’s founding executive director David Wilkinson ’06 JD notes, the economic and social effects of COVID -19 will endure for some time, and there is much work to be done.

“Society’s deepest disparities were revealed last year,” Wilkinson reflects. “How do we better respond to community needs, and how can government aid in recovery? As one of the world’s preeminent research institutions, with truly extraordinary talent at every level, Yale has the privilege and opportunity to make a real difference—to shed light on these and other challenges facing society. Thanks to David and the Emerald Gate Foundation’s generous support, we are in an excellent position to meet this moment.”

April 26, 2021