Social Medicine Perspectives on Covid19

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This page is a compilation of writings and other resources by BCSM affiliates to provide social medicine perspectives on Covid19. For current medical and public health information, please consult the CDC.

How Smart City Planning Could Slow Future Pandemics

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliate Jason Corburn was quoted in a recent Wired article about how smart urban planning could slow future pandemics. Corburn recommends "placing cities’ highest budget, best designed, most beautiful new projects in the poorest, most neglected areas."

Is America Able to Apply Lessons Learned From the Polio Epidemic in the Fight Against Covid-19?

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate Elena Conis recently co-authored a New York Times op-ed about what to expect when a Coronavirus vaccine finally arrives, based on lessons learned from the history of the polio vaccine.

Professor Conis was also quoted in this Georgia Public Broadcasting article about Georgia polio survivors who fear that easing social distancing guidelines could have severe consequences for the American public.

Urban Slums are Uniquely Vulnerable to COVID-19. Here’s How to Help.

New research co-authored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate Jason Corburn on how to help urban slums that are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19 was featured in Berkeley News.

 Coronavirus Appears Twice as Deadly for Blacks as Whites in California

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliate Denise Herd was quoted in a number of articles exploring why COVID-19 appears twice as deadly for Blacks as for whites, including in the San Francisco Chronicle and in the Patch.

As Societies Re-Open in this Pandemic, We Need Social Solidarity to Survive the Summer

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Seth Holmes argues in this recent BMJ op-ed that while we must take “physical distancing” very seriously, we need the opposite of “social distancing” to survive this pandemic: "As we approach another month of the covid-19 pandemic, we need social solidarity to protect our mental health... In this time of isolation, we need the healing properties of social cohesion—from a distance."

Public Health Experts Investigate Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on Communities of Color

In a recent “Berkeley Conversation,” public health scholars offered a critical look at the disparate impacts of the coronavirus on communities of color to explain why Black and Brown people were dying at far higher rates compared to the general population, while also countering narratives that these deaths were biologically-based, or that individual behavior is to blame. The panelists examined the larger structures, including the legacies of slavery, the role of residential segregation, and even the public health field, as causes or contributors of the disparate impacts experienced by those populations. The panel included several faculty affiliates of the Berkeley Center for Social Medicine: Denise HerdAmani AllenJason Corburn, and Mahasin Mujahid. For a write-up and video of the panel discussion visit this page.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020  | 8:00 - 9:30 a.m. PST

Structural Competency Innovations & Opportunities in the Era of Covid-19

Part 3 : Global Responses took place on May 6 and can be viewed here.


Co-sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

BCSM Affiliate Amani Allen Interviewed on CNN about Racial Disparity

Amani M. Allen, Associate Professor of Community Health Sciences and Epidemiology and Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliate, was interviewed on CNN on April 11, discussing the racial disparities in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. "We have seen this pattern of racial health disparities for quite a long time, and we see it across numerous health outcomes.”

What History’s Economy-Disrupting Outbreaks Can Teach Us About Coronavirus Panic

In her Time Magazine article, Elena Conis examines past disease outbreaks like the cholera epidemic of 1832, the bubonic plague of 1900 and, one of the deadliest pandemics, the flu of 1918. She concludes: 

“Each epidemic takes place in its own context. The state of trade in New York in 1832—as well as the city’s infrastructure, wealth, poverty, graft and relationship to the rest of the world—played a role in cholera’s spread. The economy recovered then, and has many times since. At the same time, a number of historians credit medieval plague with a role in the collapse of feudalism and the rise of capitalism, so it is hard to generalize about the relationship between epidemics and economies. The national and global financial systems will still exist on the other side of a disease. But no amount of looking backward can tell us what they will look like then—or what COVID-19 might be capable of changing.”

Professor Conis, a faculty affiliate of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine, was also quoted in the National Post and San Francisco Chronicle.

Triage and Health Resource Allocation & Ethics

Barbara Koenig and her team at UCSF Bioethics Program curated a collection of triage policies from around the US and the world. The collection also includes ethics literature related to pandemics and resource allocation. Professor Koenig is an affiliate of Berkeley Center for Social Medicine.

Raids on Immigrant Communities During the Pandemic Threaten the Country’s Public Health  

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine (BCSM) Research and Policy Analyst Miriam Magaña Lopez and BCSM co-chair Seth Holmeseditorial in the American Journal of Public Health discusses how ICE raids violate public health recommendations, sow distrust in public health institutions, and disobey shelter in place orders.

Structural Competency Innovations & Opportunities in the Era of Covid-19

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine is co-sponsoring this series of webinars.

Part 2 : Medically Marginalized Populations took place on April 22 and can be viewed here.


Co-sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

For the good of us all: Addressing the needs of our unhoused neighbors during the COVID-19 pandemic

This report summarizes the relevant public health knowledge about and policy responses to COVID-19 and homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area and in six other cities. The report, whose authors include Berkeley Center for Social Medicine faculty affiliate Coco Auerswald and ISSI graduate student in residence Chris Herring, concludes with recommendations regarding testing and housing to protect society’s most vulnerable people and the broader communities in which they live from preventable morbidity and mortality. Video of the virtual press conference is available for viewing here.

Pandemicity, COVID-19 and the limits of public health ‘science’

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliated faculty Eugene T. Richardson writes in BMJ Global Health, "Mathematical models of infectious disease transmission ... serve not as forecasts, but rather as a means for setting epistemic confines to the understanding of why some groups live sicker lives than others—confines that sustain predatory accumulation rather than challenge it."

Disasters and capitalism…and COVID-19

In her March 26 Somatosphere article, Berkeley Center for Social Medicine affiliated faculty Vincanne Adams expands upon her recent participation in a radio talk show on the topic of disaster capitalism and the current COVID-19 pandemic, raising the following questions: "Is the COVID-19 pandemic a disaster? If it is, how does it compare to other disasters that anthropologists have written about? Might the lessons learned from other disasters, like the Hurricane Katrina recovery in New Orleans, be useful in understanding the current pandemic? Looking at COVID-19 through the lens of disaster capitalism, for instance, we could explore its roles in the causes, impacts and responses to COVID-19 in the US."

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Seth Holmes and Vera Chang's April 14 piece in The Guardian explains the risks that essential workers face with no relief measures in place for them: "While Americans have been instructed to maintain 6ft from others, food workers labor shoulder-to-shoulder in the country’s mega-processing plants. Farmworkers pack into buses to and from orange groves and other harvest sites. They share cramped rooms, even beds, with strangers, and lack ventilation or access to sanitation." 

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine is co-sponsoring this series of webinars:

Structural Competency Innovations & Opportunities in the Era of Covid-19

Part 1 : Basic Needs and First Response took place on April 15 and the video can be viewed here.

Co-sponsored by Berkeley Center for Social Medicine

Historical Perspectives on the Pandemic

In an article entitled “Generation C has Nowhere to Turn,” Amanda Mull, a staff writer for The Atlantic, interviewed Professor Elena Conis, a historian of medicine and public health and an affiliate of ISSI’s Berkeley Center for Social Medicine. “Once people are let out into the world to rejoin their lives, the pandemic will continue to harm them for years to come. ‘Epidemics are really bad for economies,' says Elena Conis, a historian of medicine and public health at UC Berkeley.... ‘We’re going to see a whole bunch of college graduates and people finishing graduate programs this summer who are going to really struggle to find work…. There are aspects of history that repeat themselves, but what’s more true is that every epidemic takes place in its own context. This is a unique viral agent and a unique social and cultural context, and economic context, too.'" Dr. Conis was also featured in an ABC7 news article entitled, "Coronavirus Pandemic: UC Berkeley historian draws similarities between COVID-19 and polio epidemic of the 1950s."

ICE Needs to Stand Down – For Everyone’s Good

ISSI's Berkeley Center for Social Medicine co-chair Seth Holmes co-authored this opinion piece in The Globe Post explaining that "when agents dressed in 'Police/ICE' jackets show up at apartment complexes... the highly visible presence of ICE greatly amplifies undocumented immigrants’ fear that seeking needed medical care – including testing for COVID-19 – will make them targets for arrest and deportation and jeopardize any future chance of getting a green card".

ICE agents are still performing raids – and using precious N95 masks to do so

Berkeley Center for Social Medicine (BCSM) co-chair Seth Holmes and BCSM affiliate Miriam Magaña Lopez call for an end to immigration raids in this op-ed in the March 31, 2020 edition of The Guardian. They state that "ICE raids conducted by the federal government are putting our country at risk, worsening a critical shortage of medical supplies and leading to overcrowding and movement that facilitate the spread of Covid-19. At this historic moment, we must set our priorities straight. If we want to survive, we must stop ICE raids, detention and deportation. We must provide protective equipment to frontline workers in our health system. Our lives and the future of our society depend on it."

patient on ventilator with health care workerIn a De-funded Health System, Doctors and Nurses Suffer Near-Impossible Conditions

Seth Holmes' March 29, 2020 article in Salon shares the experiences of many doctors and nurses trying to care for their patients despite critical shortages. Holmes and co-author Liza Buchbinder show that when our leaders de-fund the health system that protects us all, millions of doctors, nurses, patients, and families are put at risk. Holmes is Co-Chair of BCSM.


What the “Global North” needs to learn about COVID-19

In this blog post in British Medical Journal Global Health, BCSM faculty affiliate Sriram Shamasunder and co-authors discuss concrete steps that can be taken and the many lessons that U.S. health workers can learn from their international colleagues around the world.  

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