Last week, the American people came to know the brilliance of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Center for Allergies and Infectious Disease. His sharp mind, competent leadership style, and a steady hand – even in a crisis – have been known to many of us in public health for quite some time. It was a great thing to see him become a household name, even reaching the rarified status of having his headshot emblazoned on a donut from the fabled Donuts Delite Bakery in Rochester, New York. (The famous Fauci donuts continue to sell out daily, and the bakery is now taking orders from every corner of the country.)
Fauci is being celebrated in this way because America needs experts right now, and we need steady leaders to help navigate this challenge and plot a path forward. This is a harrowing time for our country, with mounting infections, and stories of health workers putting their own safety on the line to save lives. The rise of our nation’s scientists truly presents a bright spot in the darkness, and as this pandemic grows in cases and length, Americans are hungry for the truth. In a day and age filled with streaming misinformation and rumor, people crave timely information from trustworthy sources. On top of that, decision-makers who need to act quickly right now, for their families, their city, their state, or even their country, need to know where to turn for good, evidence-based information.
The good news is that our nation is actually rich with top experts in pandemic preparedness and response. I have worked on these issues for a long time, and put together a shortlist of the top experts and organizations I trust.
While no one has a crystal ball, the public health field has insight into how this novel coronavirus will cycle around the globe and how localities, states and the federal government could make policy changes to save lives when days or even hours count. These are also the people who have long warned that America is at risk for a pandemic exactly like this one. After this crisis is over, when policymakers are ready to ensure that our country will put sustainable, science-based, and strategic policy protections in place to prevent crises of this scale ever again, these are the experts who should be at the table.
These scientists may not have their faces on donuts (yet!), but here are a few top experts and organizations that I follow, and recommend you do too.
- First stop, the Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases Map by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University – I check this map daily, which shows the cases, fatalities, and recoveries in regions and countries around the globe. The CSSE numbers are the most current and reliable ones available. (Disclosure: I am a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health faculty member.)
- Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security – This organization was founded by D.A. Henderson (who helped eradicate smallpox around the globe) and Tara O’Toole, long before pandemic response was understood. Now under the leadership of Dr. Tom Inglesby, it is the nation’s top repository of thought leaders and practitioners for health emergency preparedness. These experts have been the brains behind many past table-top exercises and plans designed with a mission to, “protect people’s health from epidemics and disasters and ensure that communities are resilient to major challenges.” On Twitter, follow @JHSPH_CHS, and @T_Inglesby @drJoshS @JenniferNuzzo and @MSchochSpana Caitlin Rivers
- Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) – This organization has released a report since 2003, with estimates of how ready each state is for a pandemic, how many hospital beds would be available, and how many respirators would be on hand: Ready or Not 2020: Protecting the Public’s Health from Diseases, Disasters and Bioterrorism. On Twitter, follow @HealthyAmerica1 (Disclosure: I founded this organization in 1999 and served as its founding Executive Director until 2006.)
- Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) – Since 2001, they have been thought leaders in addressing public health preparedness and emerging infectious disease response. CIDRAP is part of the Office of the Vice President for Research at the University of Minnesota. They just released, Life, or death? Experts guide pandemic medical equipment decisions. On Twitter, follow @CIDRAP
- How do we evolve out of lockdowns? At this stage, we have not yet seen the peak in infections anywhere in the U.S., and the strict social distancing guidelines being recommended by health officials are appropriate and necessary to protect the nation from a catastrophic loss of life. But experts are proposing a realistic way to eventually lift these restrictions. There are two frameworks that I believe present the best strategies on how we get back to a functioning civil society. Both of these are premised on comprehensive testing, strong public health and medical capacity; and high compliance with social distancing. We still have a ways to go, and all of these ideas require additional vetting, discussion and input to ensure that when officials lift restrictions, they do so equitably and ethically. Here are two plans that lay out the best current thinking on this topic:
- David Katz, Former Director, Yale-Griffin Research Center has produced A Proposed Framework for Risk-Based Interdiction of Coronavirus, which outlines the levels of risk to various populations, and how policymakers can eventually use a more “surgical” approach to manage and enforce social distancing.
- The American Enterprise Institute’s Resident Fellow and Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb convened a team of experts to write National coronavirus response: A road map to reopening, which gives policymakers specific benchmarks for their communities to hit before lifting social distancing restrictions. On Twitter, follow @ScottGottliebMD
- Resolve to Save Lives – Led by Dr. Tom Frieden, who served as Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and as Commissioner of the New York City’s health department, the group releases research on how to prevent the spread of the world’s most dangerous diseases. They created a ReadyScore which measures how ready each nation is around the world to prevent and confront a pandemic. On Twitter, follow @ResolveTSL and @DrTomFrieden
I’m a believer in strong science, leadership and character, and right now, I see those things all around me. There is no better way to confront times of hardship and sacrifice than to look to those who rise to the challenge, and recognize their contribution by saying thank you. There are so many people in public service and in public health that this country should applaud and be proud of today for putting their own health and safety at risk to protect the common good.
Taking a cue from Donuts Delite, CityHealth has created a way to reach out and thank our public health heroes on the front lines, (in a social-distancing-friendly way!) I invite you to join us in supporting them by visiting https://www.cityhealth.org/heroes and sending your gratitude. We will collect and release all messages of encouragement during National Public Health Week, April 6-10 on our Twitter feed @City_Health.
About the Author: Shelley Hearne, DrPH, is President of CityHealth, and has spent decades assessing pandemic preparedness policies and plans and advising government officials about how to improve them. Follow @ShelleyHearne and @City_Health on Twitter to see regular curation of pandemic assessments and other policies aimed to make us all healthier now, and in the long run.