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Listen to people taking action against COVID-19


As the coronavirus pandemic escalated this year, some people’s jobs became a relentless race to help save lives. Here, an emergency medicine doctor, a vaccine trial volunteer, a protective equipment manufacturer, a public health director and others share what 2020 has been like for them.

The following interviews were edited for greater length and clarity.

Yvette CalderonMount Sinai health system

Yvette Calderon is president of emergency medicine at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital. He was on the front lines of the New York City pandemic wave.

P: How has your pandemic changed your job?

Calderon: It was a very stressful time. it was really important to check in with everyone: nursing staff, faculty, residents, the (doctor’s assistants) – just to make sure we had a mental health check. We saw a lot of death, more than I saw in a short period of time.

P: Tell us your experience.

Calderón: It was very insulating. You saw the fear in everyone’s face, not just the patients, but your colleagues, your staff. It was just incredibly tense. However, there was no other place I wanted to be.

P: What surprised you about the public response to the pandemic?

Calderón: Nothing. New Yorkers are amazing. As New Yorkers came together in this crisis, from seven o’clock to the people who went out of their way with food for health care providers, making sure the elderly had (what they needed), the children created incredible masks and shields for the our essential workers.

P: What made your job difficult?

Calderón: Don't know. I haven’t seen my mom in several months and lost my dad (with COVID) on April 6th. Both had COVID. This week I made an appointment to see (mom). But (the nursing center) can call me and say there’s another outbreak and then I can’t see it.

Being a doctor who has been caring for patients all his life, taking patients ’hands when they are at the end of their lives, crying with the patient’s family and not being able to be with my father was the biggest upset of all.

P: What gives you hope for the future?

Calderón: Several medical schools and colleges have come to me to make presentations on health disparities. What gives me hope is how many incredibly bright and passionate young people want to understand (why certain groups are getting more seriously ill). And I really want to do something about it.

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Abigail Echo-HawkAbigail Echo-HawkSeattle Indian Health Board

Abigail Echo-Hawk, a citizen of the Pawnee nation of Oklahoma, is research director of the Seattle Indian Health Board, a federally qualified health center that serves Native American and Alaska Native Americans in the Puget Sound region. As director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, she focuses on collecting data on more than 70 percent of Native American and Alaskan Indians living on tribal reserve lands and whose information is rarely collected or analyzed, making it difficult to allocate COVID resources. -19.

P: How has the pandemic changed your job?

Eco-Falcon: I had to pick up my staff and redirect them, which means the work we’re doing on cancer prevention and HIV prevention is going to suffer. HIV is an epidemic in our community. But right now, COVID-19 is killing our people every day.

P: What do you want people to know about your experience?

Eco-Falcon: We are really suffering from a lack of resources and that suffering is not new. As a result of the continued underfunding of public health infrastructure within the native community and of all public health infrastructure, this country has created a perfect environment for a pandemic to unfold.

P: What surprised you about the audience’s response?

Eco-Falcon: Some tribal nations have made incredible public health decisions before states have done so, before counties have done so, before cities have done so. They closed their reserves, closed businesses, worked to put together support systems to care for their seniors.

P: What is making your job difficult?

Eco-Falcon: Access to good quality data. We know that people of color are at higher risk for COVID and mortality from COVID. It will be essential to give priority to people who are most at risk of getting the vaccine. How are we going to know that those priority populations are really the ones getting that vaccine?

P: What gives you hope?

Eco-Falcon: Because of the pandemic, along with all the other things that have happened in dealing with racial justice in the United States, there is a level of awareness in the United States about racial, health, and police disparities. It gave me hope for the future, that we can build a new normalcy where all people have the same value and the same value.

Dave ChappellDave ChappellCourtesy of Dave Chappell

Dale Chappell is the scientific director of Humanigen, a biotechnology company in Burlingame, California, that manufactures the monoclonal antibody lenzilumab, developed to prevent an excessive immune system reaction known as a cytokine storm. The drug is in phase II and phase III clinical trials against COVID-19. Chappell is headquartered outside Geneva.

P: How has the pandemic changed your job?

Chappell: I’m a trained scientist, but I came to biotechnology initially as an investor. I joined Humanigen’s board and after arguing with the board and management team I became the full-time chief scientist. (With the pandemic), I dedicated myself full time to lenzilumab, making sure we could get this medicine to patients as quickly as possible.

P: How did your training prepare you to fight the pandemic?

Chappell: After medical school I did a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and studied (granulocyte-macrophage colony stimulating factor), an immune system chemical that initiates the cytokine storm that can (occur) in the COVID-. 19. So for me, this has come to the full circle. This is exactly what you should do right now.

P: What did you learn?

Chappell: It was really interesting to see how the global pharmaceutical and biotechnology community comes together to try to treat this pandemic. The exchange of information. The fact that people are willing to put their data on prepress servers.

P: What surprised you about the audience’s response?

Chappell: I live in Switzerland. The initial (European) blockades and quarantines were a rather surprising act of humanity on the part of everyone to try to flatten the curve, to prevent hospitals from being invaded.

P: What is making your job hard to do?

Chappell: As a small business trying to take on a global pandemic, they are always resources. We could use more people, we could use more clinical trial sites. We can't get data fast enough. We need more hours in the day.

P: What gives you hope for the future?

Chappell: The way governments around the world and the biopharmaceutical industry, the way they came together to deal with this pandemic. We learned a dramatic amount. Within six, 12, 18 months, I think we will know a lot more. And hopefully, life will start to seem a little more normal.

P: What do you miss about your old life?

Chappell: Human interaction with peers. Go to science conferences, have that personal interaction. It's hard to do with Zoom.

Michael BowenMichael BowenPatricia Bowen

Michael Bowen is executive vice president of Prestige Ameritech in North Richland Hills, Texas, a manufacturer of surgical masks and respirators. He predicted that a future epidemic would consume the supply of personal protective equipment from the United States because most PPE is manufactured in other countries.

P: How has the pandemic changed your life?

Bowen: We work all the time, my business partner and I. They are the face of the company; I have the simple job. He literally lives in the office: he has an RV parked there and goes home only on weekends. Our sales increased by 600 percent. We went from 80 people to 260. We sold 75,000 respirators a month. We are now selling 5 million a month. In January or February we will earn 10 million a month.

P: What do you want people to know about your experience?

Bowen: I get thousands of emails a day: "My daughter is a nurse and has been wearing the same mask for 30 days. Can you help me?" It was heartbreaking. I want people to know that America needs to make its own products.

P: What did you learn during the pandemic?

Bowen: That humans are not very good at preparing us for things. After this is over, people will forget. Hospitals are going to think: what are the odds of it happening again? I’ve been through it before (in 2009) H1N1 (bird flu pandemic). We had people calling, very emotional: I need help, we need masks. And then they didn’t stay with us.

P: What do you miss about your old life?

Bowen: The ability to make everyone who calls me happy. We had great products and looked after people well and if they had any problems or ran out of product, we would put them in a truck and drive them there. I can't do it anymore. I can’t help everyone.

Lisa FitzpatrickLisa FitzpatrickPartha Nandi

Lisa Fitzpatrick is a clinical professor of medicine in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. He launched the company Grapevine Health to promote health literacy. She is also a volunteer for the coronavirus vaccine trial.

P: What do you want people to know?

Fitzpatrick: I want people to know that it’s always relevant to connect and listen to people. More than ever, the pandemic demonstrates how disconnected we are. What I’m hearing on the street is that 5G is transmitting coronavirus? Are there any chips in the vaccine? Is coronavirus real? – People distrust the government and the health care system.

P: Why did you join a vaccine test?

Fitzpatrick: One day, a gentleman said he didn’t want to have anything to do with Trump’s vaccine. When I asked him what it would take for him to decide to take the vaccine, he said, "I would consider it if I saw some other black man working on it." And I thought, well, I was a research researcher. I am a black woman. I'm a doctor. I can be a bridge between science and community and let my experience speak for itself.

P: What is making your job difficult?

Fitzpatrick: Everything that is wild and crazy spreads like wildfire. Credible messengers have to be part of the solution. When the blockage happened, people were texting me, calling me, and sending me emails: Is that true? Can you read this to me? Should I believe this? And I thought, I need to jump into action.

P: What gives you hope?

Fitzpatrick: I am never hopeless. Because this will happen too. A lot of damage is being done now, but I don’t know if it’s irreparable. Blacks survived slavery; The American Indians survived the genocide. We just have to figure out how to be more resilient and face it.

See our full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Evan AndersonEvan AndersonEmory University

Evan J. Anderson is a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, who has been conducting trials of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine and others. It supports testing promising vaccine candidates in children.

P: Tell us your experience.

Anderson: (Long pause) This was a very challenging experience seeing patients die without therapeutic options. We now have some important advances in helping to improve care. Patients are better off than before the pandemic and that has been great.

P: What did you learn during the pandemic?

Anderson: That a focused approach by industry, academics and government can produce dramatic improvements to be able to advance vaccines from the laboratory to early-stage and now late-stage clinical trials, shortening deadlines for conducting these studies and obtaining data and available to the public.

P: What surprised you about the public response to the pandemic?

Anderson: The anti-science inclination of population segments and the antagonism towards basic public health interventions to decrease CoV-2 SARV transmission. In addition to surveys indicating that a substantial percentage of the population will categorically reject COVID-19 vaccines. That’s amazing. And discouraging, honestly.

P: What is making your job difficult?

Anderson: Only the accumulated exhaustion. We increased in early March to run at the pace, and now I take (many) months at that pace. At some point, you can’t keep running any longer.

P: What gives you hope for the future?

Anderson: The high efficacy of the vaccine observed in the Moderna and Pfizer trials is really encouraging. If these vaccines (and also other possible ones) can be distributed quickly and people receive a highly effective vaccine, we will probably see a return to a “new normal” sometime in 2021. To achieve this, we still have a long way to go, including evaluating these vaccines. in pregnant women and children. There is a lot of hope for better days ahead.

Angela RasmussenAngela RasmussenA. Rasmussen

Virologist Angela Rasmussen from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, lives in Seattle while researching SARS CoV-2. Trying to fight misinformation has become a big part of his job.

P: What do you want people to know about your experience?

Rasmussen: It was as exhausting for scientists as it was for everyone else. It was incredibly frustrating and demoralizing to see them ignore the advice of experts, epidemiologists, doctors, and virologists like me.

P: What did you learn during the pandemic?

Rasmussen: As a very small virus that we didn’t even know until December 30 last year (and that we didn’t really know was a coronavirus until January 10 this year) it could profoundly affect the entire human species.

P: What is making your job difficult?

Rasmussen: The misinformation. It makes me 10 times harder to do my job if every time I write a work, every time I write a piece in perspective, every time I tweet something, I have to think very carefully what I say. Because it could get out of context and people could run with it in really harmful ways.

P: What gives you hope for the future?

Rasmussen: Those of us who work with emerging viruses, we all know each other. This has given me opportunities to meet people who face some of the same problems, but from a very different professional perspective. And that was really wonderful. Fortunately it will lead to a great deal of research.

P: What do you miss about your old life?

Rasmussen: I miss being able to think of my work as a job and not as: What kind of overwhelming despair do I have to deal with today?

Thomas QuadeThomas QuadeT. Quade

Thomas Quade is a health commissioner in Geauga County, Ohio, who leads a team of about two dozen people who enforce state law to protect public health.

P: How has the pandemic changed your job?

Quade: Some of the work we would normally do was put on hold. We didn’t start the year with many additional contact tracers and epidemiologists, for example, so we retrained our paramedics, who typically inspect restaurants, to make COVID contact tracking calls.

P: What do you want people to know about your experience?

Quade: People in local health departments – and this isn’t just mine, it’s across the country – are working harder than they’ve ever worked. And before they didn’t strike. Public health in this country has been poor in the last 15 years; in the 2008 recession we lost about 25 percent of the U.S. public health workforce and it was not replenished.

P: What did you learn during the pandemic?

Quade: He reinforced that we really need to have relationships in the community. United Way or YMCA, or your church or your school, may say the same things we would say, but it’s absorbed differently. We need those partners, otherwise history is no longer about fighting the virus. The story is about fighting people who fight the virus. And that’s not productive.

P: What surprised you about the audience’s response?

Quade: That we are getting back on top of what are very simple strategies. These are things that parents tell children: wash your hands, stay home when you are sick. What surprised me was the success that politics has become, that a mask says you are for or against something.

P: What gives you hope for the future?

Quade: (Long pause) What gives me hope is that, as tired and weary as my colleagues, not only in this health department, but in my national network of public health colleagues, they seem to have energy reserves left. I think it’s because the tough public health professionals are mission-oriented. If it was just a job, none of us would do that.

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