COVID-19: Science and Society

September 23, 2021 | 10 AM – 4:30 PM | Virtual Event

The 14th Annual WSAS Symposium examined the pandemic through three lenses: Immunity, Community, and Opportunity.

Logo for Dialogues

The COVID pandemic has upended life in Washington, nationally, and globally. It has highlighted the importance of science in addressing societal challenges, and the many links between science and larger social issues, including social justice, political discourse, and economic activity. The 2021 WSAS symposium took place roughly 18 months into the pandemic. It focused on what we have learned thus far, including biomedical aspects, broader social implications, and the many connections between them. The symposium payed particular attention to the implications for Washington and on how scientific insight can help crystallize the lessons learned, inform the recovery process, and build resilience against future disasters.

Keynote Speakers

Dr. Lisa Brown
Dr. Lisa BrownDirector of the Washington State Department of Commerce
Apoorva Mandavilli
Apoorva MandavilliHealth and Science Journalist, The New York Times


This session reviewed biomedical and public health aspects of the pandemic. Key issues included the virus itself (its origins, its capacity for mutation, its clinical effects, and questions of duration and robustness of immunity); medical countermeasures, especially vaccination; and public health countermeasures (testing, epidemiologic surveillance; modeling and forecasting; masks and social distancing). Common themes included uncertainty and how it was handled; tradeoffs; and how the science was communicated.


Ruanne Barnabas
Ruanne BarnabasInfectious Disease Physician-Scientist, University of Washington
Helen Chu
Helen ChuPI of Seattle Flu Study
Umair Shah
Umair ShahWA Secretary of Health
Wesley Van Voorhis, moderator
Wesley Van Voorhis, moderatorInfectious Disease Specialist, University of Washington


This session focused on some of the social implications of the pandemic. One key issue included the impact on families; job loss, workplace environments, and the disproportionate impact on women, children, and those with low socioeconomic status. Another issue that was addressed was the disruption of K-12 and higher education and the identification and response to academic, emotional, and developmental impacts on current students. The last key issue discussed was public discourse; the framing and discussion surrounding COVID-19 in traditional and social media, and the role of disinformation and science in public discourse. Common themes included disparate effects on specific racial and socioeconomic communities and how to prepare for the changes to societal norms resulting from COVID-19.


Celestina Barbosa-Leiker
Celestina Barbosa-LeikerVice Chancellor for Research and Associate Professor, Washington State University
Stephan Blanford
Stephan BlanfordExecutive Director, Children's Alliance
Jevin West
Jevin WestDirector, Center for an Informed Public, University of Washington
Ann Bostrom, moderator
Ann Bostrom, moderatorProfessor, Evans School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Washington


This session focused on the far-reaching economic impacts on both the private sector and the public sector in our state. Key issues included the exponential growth and downturn of specific industries and firms; the effects on small business; impacts on the state’s cities and towns, and policymaking to combat these effects. Common themes included the difficulties with quantifying these impacts and how to address the largest and most enduring economic and infrastructural impacts of COVID-19.


Phil Watson
Phil WatsonProfessor of Economics, University of Idaho
Jill McCluskey
Jill McCluskeyRegents Professor of Economics, Washington State University
Paul Inghram
Paul InghramDirector of Growth Management, Puget Sound Regional Council
Ron Mittelhammer, moderator
Ron Mittelhammer, moderatorRegents Professor of Economics, Washington State University

Symposium Chair

Howard Frumkin, DrPH, MPD, MD
Howard Frumkin, DrPH, MPD, MDProfessor Emeritus, Environmental and Occupational Health, University of Washington