The COVID-19 Epidemic: Crisis and OpportunityMay 11, 2020
Of course, the crisis extends to the school’s finances like all higher education institutions. We await the budget from the State of Colorado to learn the cuts that will be coming and are also tracking student enrollment for the next academic year. At present, admission and matriculation trends are favorable. However, our budget will be lower for the upcoming fiscal year and we have taken the initial steps needed for responsible management. We have communicated the realities of the next fiscal year; some have construed the message as one of “doom and gloom.” Not the right interpretation; rather all need to be aware of what we can realistically anticipate. As Dean, I intend to clearly communicate what is to come so that we can plan and face challenges together.
What title could be more appropriate for today’s pandemic than: The Public Health Crisis Survival Guide. Leadership and Management in Trying Times, by Joshua Sharfstein? I first met Josh when I was Chair of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and he was named the Baltimore Health Commissioner in 2005. His account of his first week speaks to the challenges of that city. In a collaborative arrangement that continues today, we placed a new and stellar graduate of the program in the Baltimore City Health Department. Since that time, Josh became the Principal Deputy Commissioner of the FDA, and then the Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, before joining the faculty of the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
His book mixes stories from his rich experiences with principles for crisis management. For Josh, the definition of a crisis is multidimensional; to quote him, “But at the heart of a crisis is a sense of vulnerability, a whiff of panic…”. He writes about the short-term crises that often lead to media attention, a need for immediate solution, and communications challenges. However, the principles for approaching them and managing them readily extend to the COVID-19 epidemic and its lengthy course. The concluding chapter “Opportunity in Crisis” reminds us to keep looking for learning, practice, and research opportunities as we dig in for the long run of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Need something lighter to read and in the mood for “pandemic potboilers”? Here are two: Fever by the South African writer Deon Meyer and The End of October by Lawrence Wright. Fever follows the post-apocalyptic theme, describing the development of a community after the world has been devastated by a mysterious illness. Wright takes the “James Michener” approach weaving in mini-lessons about pandemics with several story threads. The 1998 book, The Cobra Event by Richard Preston, is another pandemic, bioterrorism read. If bored with Netflix, give these a try. And during this time, please support our local, small business bookstores with an online order of these books rather than big box retailers that will no doubt survive the epidemic. I purchased Fever in the last hour that Tattered Cover LoDo was open before it closed in March. It seemed like a book for the moment and it was.
Until next week,
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health