‘Makes you ask why the hell we even bother.’ Infectious disease experts face disillusionment as COVID-19 pandemic worsens

My friend Kristen, a fellow and avid Northwestern Wildcat, introduced me to this article from The Boston Globe. I thought it was not only absolutely true – ergo quaecumque sunt vera – but captured another slice of the broader Trump legacy on science policy. If in fact it is solely his and not one of empire’s decay. I introduce the reader to this article, but do not reproduce the article in its entirety. It is not mine.

By Hanna Krueger Globe Staff,Updated December 4, 2020, 10:15 a.m.

From left to right, Ashish Jha, Michael Mina, and Sara Suliman.

From left to right, Ashish Jha, Michael Mina, and Sara Suliman.JONATHAN WIGGS AND SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF (CUSTOM CREDIT)

“Michael Mina could have pursued a career as a potter. Or remained a Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. Instead, he opted to become an epidemiologist, a profession that now has his head hitting the pillow around 4 a.m. each day for five hours of sleep. He spends the bulk of his time in his office — or rather, the coffee table jury-rigged into a standing desk in his Jamaica Plain apartment — searching for ways to ease the pandemic’s devastation and fielding a barrage of media requests.

“But each week, amidst the thousands of e-mails he receives and the thousands of patients filling ICU beds across the country, it is not the exhaustion that weighs most heavily on Mina. It’s the dejection.

“At almost every step of this pandemic we have failed magnificently as a country,” the Harvard scientist said Monday. “And in ways that we just really didn’t need to fail.”

“The country, and in particular this city, is home to some of the greatest public health experts in the world, many of whom have spent their careers preparing for a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But as the worsening outbreak drags into its ninth month and politics too often prevail over science, many infectious disease experts say they are increasingly disillusioned. The rush of adrenaline and resolve from the pandemic’s early months has given way to frustration and fatigue caused by those government leaders who have ignored scientific data and a public that has often shrugged off — or been openly hostile to — informed guidance. As cases and deaths surge across the country, some feel they are screaming into the void.

Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina has spent months pushing for rapid home tests to help stop the spread of COVID-19, with little success. He likens his work day to “hitting his head again and again and again against a wall.”

“Harvard epidemiologist Dr. Michael Mina has spent months pushing for rapid home tests to help stop the spread of COVID-19, with little success. He likens his work day to “hitting his head again and again and again against a wall.”SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

“I’m just astounded by the dysfunction, the willingness to just stay the course as hundreds of thousands of people die, and the unwillingness to innovate in literally any way,” said Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who has been advocating for widespread at-home rapid antigen testing since March with little success. “I’ve realized that when we need to rise up as a country, we have truly no moral capacity to do it. It’s just the most mind-bending, complete Twilight Zone experience that makes you ask why the hell we even bother.”

“It’s this urge among strangers online to lash out and threaten scientists that concerns Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, even more than the public’s disregard for science.”

Dr. Ashish Jha is one of the most quoted experts in his field. He was doing more than 30 media requests a day in the spring but has since scaled back to 15 to 20 a day.

“Dr. Ashish Jha is one of the most quoted experts in his field. He was doing more than 30 media requests a day in the spring but has since scaled back to 15 to 20 a day. JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF

“I’ve come to believe that we live in this very complicated society where voices like mine are heard and they are valued, but they’re not always listened to. And that’s probably OK to an extent,” said Jha, one of the most quoted public health experts through the pandemic. “Our job is to help people understand what the trade-offs are but not necessarily to tell people what to do.”

“He can count on one hand how many days he has taken off from work in the last nine months. All the while, scathing messages have poured into his office and inbox criticizing him both personally and professionally.

“Just barrages of two-page letters telling me how awful a human being I am and how I should ‘go back to where I came from,’” said Jha, who was born in India and has lived in the United States since he was 13. “All that was pretty much par for the course, shocking at first but then I just ignored it.”

“But then in late November, Jha testified before Congress about the inefficacy of hydroxychloroquine, a drug used to treat malaria and touted by President Trump as a “game-changer” in the fight against the coronavirus. Shortly after the hearing, Jha said the threats lodged at him grew more serious and tangible, prompting him to alert police who sent cruisers to patrol his neighborhood. The experience mirrors that of Dr. Anthony Fauci, perhaps the nation’s most well-known infectious disease expert, who has required a security detail for months following threats to himself and his family…”

The URL to the full-article is here..

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/12/04/nation/makes-you-ask-why-hell-we-even-bother-infectious-disease-experts-face-disillusionment-covid-19-pandemic-worsens/?event=event25&fbclid=IwAR3qDsfXvS9bEqqjOSt9Ad4JgG5MAseiEbQ7crpAJrjDvoDhTIJ1x9D9fgQ

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