Saturday, 6 Mar 2021

Opinion | It’s the Fauci Awards!

Video by Adam Westbrook and Emily Holzknecht

transcript

It’s the Fauci Awards!

What if public health officials got awards instead of death threats?

“From New York, it’s the Fauci Awards 2020.” [MUSIC PLAYING] Good evening, and welcome to the Faucis. We’re following social distance rules, of course, so no audience tonight. But we won’t let that stop us from celebrating our extraordinary public health officials. They’re the doctors and scientists who keep our water clean, our restaurants safe. They stop outbreaks of disease and even keep mosquitoes from taking over. And in 2020, they’re our front-line defense against Covid-19. So what better year than this to celebrate their life-saving public service by giving out some of these? [BEEPING] OK, this isn’t real. There’s no glitzy ceremony for any of these people. There never was. Instead, they’re getting a lot of this. “This mask mandate is ridiculous.” “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” “She needs to be fired.” “And you, doctor, are going to be arrested for crimes against humanity.” “Oh, wait, there’s more.” “A Boone County Health Department official has received death threats.” “Death threat.” “Two death threats.” “She received threats.” “Unprecedented personal attacks.” “Numerous hostile threats.” “Threatening to kill the Santa Clara County health officer.” [MUSIC PLAYING] We’d better show them some recognition, and fast. So you know what? We’re going to do this thing. “From New York, it’s the Fauci Awards 2020.” Our first award recognizes outstanding efforts to protect workers from the coronavirus. Let’s take a look at this year’s winner. “Dr. Mark Wallace is everything you want in a public health official. Twenty-five years of experience in Weld County, Colorado, and a great communicator. In April, with cases skyrocketing at a meatpacking plant, he pressured the company to close the factory, all this while facing pressure from politicians to reopen the county. This rural community is lucky to have Dr. Wallace’s leadership.” Now, this is usually the moment when the winner steps up to collect their award and deliver a speech. Not this year. “The head of the health department suddenly retiring last week in the midst of the crisis.” “Dr. Mark Wallace worked in Weld County for 25 years.” [MUSIC PLAYING] You’ll be glad to know that Dr. Wallace was replaced by — and this is true — the local fire chief. I’m sure he’ll be super useful in the next outbreak of West Nile virus. Our next award is for Outstanding Public Health on a Low Budget. Let’s meet our winner. “What do you do when a pandemic strikes and all you have are outdated computers to process the data? That’s the challenge that faced West Virginia’s state health officer, Dr. Cathy Slemp. After years of funding cuts, the state’s computer network was virtually obsolete. Hospitals and labs were sending daily case numbers by fax, which then had to be manually entered into a database. Nevertheless, Dr. Slemp, with her 20 years of experience, worked tirelessly to process the case numbers as quickly as possible.” We’d love for Dr. Slemp to be here to collect her award, but Jim Justice, the governor of West Virginia, well, he had other ideas. “Dr. Cathy Slemp, who was helping oversee the state’s coronavirus response, was asked to submit her resignation. And she did.” “ — after Gov. Jim Justice accused her agency of inflating virus case numbers.” [DRAMATIC MUSIC] If you live in West Virginia, your governor just cost you a scientist with 20 years of local experience. But hey, on the plus side, you’ve got a lot of fax machines. O.K., onto our most prestigious award of the evening, celebrating outstanding commitment to science and data. “In late May, when the country was beginning to open, Dr. Nichole Quick was worried about the effect that could have on infection rates in Orange County, California. So she did what any responsible public health officer would do — she made masks mandatory in public spaces. It wasn’t popular with everyone, but it was a smart compromise to keep people safe while still reopening the economy.” Sometimes the right decision isn’t the popular one. And that’s why it takes guts to be a public health officer. But you don’t need me to tell you what happened next. “Orange County’s public health director has resigned.” “Supervisors say there were perceived threats against her at a May 26th board meeting.” [MUSIC PLAYING] “She needs to be fired. She needs to be fired because she is taking aim at our health.” “One official linked Dr. Quick’s hasty exit to the mask debate. She’d received threats and needed special security.” We’ve handed out just three awards tonight, but there are at least 60 stories just like these. “Somebody suggested she should be shot.” “Threats to my life and the life of my family members, especially my children.” “I’m angry. I’m tired. And it shouldn’t be this way. Whew, I don’t get emotional on this thing, but I’m emotional.” Over 250,000 Americans have died. This is what happens when we don’t listen to our scientists. It shouldn’t be this way. Our public health officials deserve our trust, our support, our recognition and, who knows, maybe even a real awards ceremony one day. Until then, all we can offer is this. To all the public health officials working hard to keep us safe, thank you.

What if there were a glamorous ceremony for public health officials — complete with a fancy theater, black-tie host and a beautiful award to hand out — to thank them for all their lifesaving work, especially during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic?

Can you imagine?

No need to. We present to you: The Fauci Awards 2020!

After all, it’s the least we can do for these public servants. To select the winners, we vetted dozens of cases of public health leaders being harassed, fired or sidelined in 2020. Many left office outside of the public spotlight. But these three confirmed instances most strikingly exemplify the dangers that rise when politics interferes with public health in the public eye.

Adam Westbrook is a producer for Opinion Video.

Emily Holzknecht (@eholzknecht) is an associate producer for Opinion Video.

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