Grinnellian Covid Experiences - Scott Fridkin ’86

“I said, ‘There will be no easy solution.’”

June 24, 2020 — Scott Fridkin ’86 is professor of medicine and epidemiology in the division of infectious diseases, the departments of medicine and epidemiology at Emory University.

Scott Fridkin ’86
    Scott Fridkin ’86

I left the [Centers for Disease Control (CDC)] about four years ago after 23 years working in outbreak response, mostly related to preventing health care-associated infections and health care worker safety, which included pandemic planning.

Now I teach emerging infectious diseases at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta. In the third week of January, I was responding to several of my invited guest lecturers from the CDC, which is across the street from Emory. That afternoon, I received a call from a friend who used to work for Delta and now operates a small airline. He asked if this was going to be a big thing, as he has called me during the Ebola, SARS, and H1N1 pandemics. In those times I often talked in generalities and nuanced responses. This time, I just replied. “Yes, this is the real thing. There will be no easy solution.”

In my course, rather than juggle guest lecturers and move planned talks around, I opened up the next three weeks just to running workshops about COVID-19, working in real time to share how the government can and should respond to this pandemic. Needless to say, we didn’t simulate how the CDC would be sidelined nor how much poor information and inconsistent policy choices would influence the pandemic in the United States.

Since classes have ended, my work is mixed with visiting nursing homes to help them with infection control and to help them manage their residents and interactions with acute care hospitals and launching research initiatives focused on assessing health care worker risk for COVID-19 attributed to work, as well as how to make nursing home residents safe.

Read more stories about Grinnellians facing COVID-19 head-on.