We have a deeply interconnected globe. The investment was not made—not just in the current administration, but over generations—to build public health infrastructure needed to address the pandemic we knew would come. What has surprised me is the divergence of the discourse. One of my jobs is to lift up the voices of people presenting sound data. In the din of many voices, it’s easy to get distracted by the ones providing loud but misguided information.
I’ve worked in HIV since the ’90s. Pandemics have a way of shining a spotlight on inherent inequalities that were easier to look away from if they didn’t impact you directly. When you take a situation where there are already such deep social and racial inequalities, and you put it on top of weak leadership, you have a complete disaster. If you’re discharging someone from the hospital who still is infectious, and you send them to a one- or two-room home shared by eight people—maybe two of whom are elderly—then you’re soon going to see those seven other people in the emergency room. That’s a real struggle that clinicians are facing on the front line.
The same reason that this pandemic took hold is the reason it’s going to be with us for a while. The things that end pandemics are vaccines, enough therapeutics that the mortality rates come down, social isolation and/or herd immunity. That final option is not the one I would personally advocate for, because the mortality rate is just way too high.
I don’t know what our new normal will look like yet. There’s going to be a constant reinvention in terms of how we’re living our lives. I don’t think that’s wrong, because it is helping save lives, and it’s helping buy us time so that hospital capacity is not exceeded, as it clearly has been in places like New York City.
Whether you’re an educator, a reporter or a clinician on the front lines, everyone has a role to play in this moment. I hope people see this as a call, the same way people who live with HIV continue the work that matters to them the most, and lift up the voices of people who are thoughtful and data driven.
Dr. Ingrid Katz ’93, associate faculty director, Harvard Global Health Institute; assistant professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital