COVID-19 Reflections as an American, a Healthcare Provider, a Human Being, a Chair, and an Infectious Disease Specialist

March 6, 2022 by

by James Nataro, MD PhD MBA, Chair, Department of Pediatrics

With the two-year anniversary of COVID-19 in the United States and the passing of the great January peak, it is a good time to share some reflections on this crisis.

As an American, I, along with most of you, have been demoralized by the politicization of this crisis. It’s true that vaccine opposition seems to map to a political pole, and a fairly predictable political faction opposes any controls on behavior, but interpreting public health measures as political policy is a difficult pill to swallow for healthcare providers. It could have been a crisis that brought us together; instead it was a crisis that polarized us to a degree rarely seen.

As a healthcare provider, I shared the early fears most of you had about simply getting very sick and possibly dying. Early on, we did not know how contagious the virus would be or whether we would be among the 1% who succumbed. I do not have as much clinical exposure as most of you, so I can only imagine what it has been like to come to work every day and bravely see patients, especially in the early months.

As a human being, it was difficult not to see my aged parents, to be afraid for my immunocompromised family members, to wonder exactly how high the epidemic curve would go and how many millions of Americans might die, including many of my friends, faculty, staff, and colleagues. In the face of an unpredictable virus, powerlessness is itself predictable.

As the chair, I was moved by the courage I saw all around me, but at the same time disheartened by “financial mitigation strategies” which meant that people worked harder and endured unprecedented hardships, yet brought home less money. I also just plain missed my friends as many stayed home.

As an infectious disease specialist, and one who has made a career studying new and emerging infections, I must admit a certain morbid fascination with this virus. True, it originated in a nonhuman mammalian species, but it is fundamentally a coronavirus. So we were able to predict its routes of transmission and, importantly, its seasonality. This seasonality has given us periods of relative relief, and more importantly, time to develop vaccines and therapeutics. This virus has not gone away. But it will be a while until its next surge, and by then, we will have ample antiviral therapeutics to thwart its lethal effects. Yes, I see a return to normal in the not distant future.

So to me the story of COVID-19 is a story of tragedy, but even more a story of heroes. Those heroes include scientists and public health professionals who are getting us through this crisis. But the front rank of heroes includes all of you who have devoted your careers to the welfare of children. You have earned the gratitude and awe of the American public. And you can be rightfully proud of this moment for the rest of your lives.

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