The call for action on racism intensifies and COVID-19 wanes in ColoradoJun 8, 2020
Even when the protests end, the discussion will continue. With 2020 being an election year, the topic of racism should hold center-stage at all levels, extending to the presidential campaign. Race and ethnicity have been used as a wedge to divide the country; now, there needs to be a united discussion of racism.
At the Colorado School of Public Health, we continue to explore what discussions we should have and what actions we should take. We will be deliberative in doing so, as the murder of George Floyd and the gravity of the alarm sounded pose an unprecedented wake-up for all in public health. Yes, we will review our curriculum and assure that students leave with an understanding of the deep roots of the social determinants of health: structural racism being only one. As Dean, however, I want our community to look for the levers that we can pull as a school that will make a difference.
I have been an academic administrator for decades and strived to enhance diversity. There have been changes in medicine and public health across these decades, but largely around increasing numbers of women, now the majority among public health students and finally among medical students in 2019 (in my medical school class of 70 students, two were women). But, we continue to fail in achieving racial and ethnic diversity in our students and faculty. Our recently completed strategic plan takes on this need. Much has been written on the topic (e.g., An Inclusive Academy. Achieving Diversity and Excellence by Stewart and Valian), but not on how academia addresses pervasive structural racism – we will take on that topic.
The pandemic persists, although waning at the moment in Colorado as the consequences of previous social distancing and other measures continue to keep the effective reproductive number (R0) below one. Contact tracing will be augmented soon by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment (CDPHE) and local public health agencies. Our initial modeling results show benefit, but a survey carried out by the Colorado School of Public Health in collaboration with several public health organizations shows that Colorado will need greatly enhanced capacity.
We can still make gains with use of masks. Remember that the face coverings used by the general public protect others from inhaling infectious droplets produced by infected people. On Friday, June 5, the World Health Organization strengthened its recommendations around mask wearing, calling for non-medical masks to be used by the general public. Why not, since use of masks is largely a “no-regrets” strategy? We still lack formal data for Colorado, but my ocular survey suggests that we need a campaign to enhance mask use.
The New York Times published a lengthy article last week criticizing the steps taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC could have performed better, but was likely hindered by central failures in coordination. Tom Frieden, Director during the Obama Administration, offered a vigorous defense. For a readable account of the CDC’s past, try Fears of the Rich, The Needs of the Poor by William Foege, Director for the years 1977-1983. Foege’s storytelling spans most of the CDC’s existence, covering the diverse challenges faced and the problems solved. Given the significance of the issues that the CDC addresses, as with COVID-19, political scrutiny and controversy are unavoidable.
Until next week,
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health