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Pandemic Governance

December 01, 2022

Assistant Prof. Yanbai Andrea Wang analyzes the U.S. governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a recently published article.

Wang’s article is featured in Advances in Research, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s annual premier publication that highlights outstanding faculty research and scholarship. 

In “Pandemic Governance,” published in the Boston College Law Review, Assistant Professor of Law Yanbai Andrea Wang and Justin Weinstein-Tull of the Arizona State University College of Law explore the chaos of the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic and contend that the incoherent response from the U.S. government reflected well-worn but scattered governmental structures. They further argue that “understanding these underlying dynamics is crucial for ensuring that, when the next pandemic hits, we can respond in a way that encourages effective pandemic management.”

Wang researches and teaches in the fields of civil procedure and transnational litigation, with a focus on the relationship between U.S. and Chinese courts. Her recent work, “Exporting American Discovery” in the University of Chicago Law Review, won the American Society of International Law David D. Caron Prize. Before joining the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School faculty, she was a Thomas C. Grey Fellow at Stanford Law School.

From Advances in Research:

To begin, the authors demonstrate that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a gap already existed “between the serious demands that pandemics place on governments and the pandemic-related policies that we possess.” By reviewing the significant amount of academic research on pandemics and crisis management, as well as the various federal, state, and local policies already in place prior to 2020 to respond to public health crises, Wang and Weinstein-Tull show that the existing policies lacked sufficient coordination mechanisms and clear lines of command to meet the needs of crisis management.

Noting that the United States has not experienced a pandemic of COVID-19’s scale for over a century, they explain that the country lacked an effective blueprint for responding to a widespread infectious outbreak on a national level. This, in turn, created fertile ground for the growth of ad-hoc governance, which then intensified the lack of coordination for responding to the pandemic. “This absence of a clear template for action formed the backdrop against which COVID-19 arose,” write Wang and Weinstein-Tull.

According to crisis theory, an effective pandemic response requires all levels of government to work in tandem to monitor infection rates and hospital capacity, implement testing and protective measures, and develop drugs and vaccines. Yet the authors observe that this is inherently a challenge for America’s system of government. “Because the U.S. Constitution disperses power between state and federal authorities,” they write, pandemic policies “exist at all levels of government.” … 

Explore the rest of this piece on Wang’s pathbreaking work and more outstanding faculty research and scholarship in the 2022 edition of Advances in Research.