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How chief health officers could help campuses navigate COVID

October 15, 2020, 10:41 PM UTC

Good afternoon, readers.

We held the latest in our series of virtual Brainstorm Health panel discussions on Thursday with a conversation about why having a chief health officer (CHO) is so important to ensuring public health safety on college campuses.

We were joined by Dr. William Kassler, deputy CHO at IBM; Dr. Sandro Galea, dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health; and Dr. Preeti Malani, CHO at University of Michigan, in a conversation moderated by Fortune editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf.

While college and university campuses have dedicated medical units to look out for student safety, the idea of having, specifically, a chief health officer is still fairly new. But that position could prove critical during the COVID pandemic as even some of the most cautious schools across the nation see outbreaks.

“Universities are very complex,” said Kassler. “They’re large employers. They function like a business, they’re an important economic business. And then you add to that fact that they’re a population in and of themselves. People congregate together, there’s socializing, sports and all that.”

Kassler went on to say that universities’ responsibility to public health extends beyond simple health services or HR. It’s now a matter of epidemiological logistics which cross paths with all of those other issues, as well as policy considerations such as remote learning, making the role of a chief health officer particularly important.

Malani of the University of Michigan has a truly unique perspective on this issue: She’s a CHO herself at the school, she’s a professor of medicine and infectious disease expert, and the parent of a junior at Michigan.

“There is loneliness, and it’s gotten worse” on campuses, she said. “Frankly, the residential experience could become so sub-optimal that it’s not worth the lift. “The idea of putting thousands of people together in tight quarters is difficult. College campuses aren’t meant for social distancing, they’re meant for togetherness.”

Among the advice that she has for students is to establish tighter social circles, to keep on masks, and to try not to eat and drink in groups, especially indoors.

Galea ended the talk on a more sober note, pointing out that so much of the conversation around coronavirus has been gloom and doom that it’s become difficult to have more mature and adult discussions about what we can do to address the crisis. “I don’t think the narrative has served the public well,” he said.

Read on for the day’s news, and see you next week.

Sy Mukherjee
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com
@the_sy_guy

DIGITAL HEALTH

Zocdoc lambasts former CEO's lawsuit claims. Digital health firm Zocdoc is facing a lawsuit from its former CEO, Cyrus Massoumi, who alleged in a September lawsuit that the company had ousted him in a "fraudulent coup." Zocdoc had a few things to say about that in a blog post on Thursday slamming how the business worked under Massoumi's tenure, and the way that it had evolved since then, including by implementing video doctor visits earlier this year as the pandemic began. It also went straight for the company's previous financial record: "In 2015, Zocdoc generated $71 million in annual revenue. However, we also burned through $43 million in cash that year. Despite this high burn rate, revenue had flat-lined, growing by just one percent month-over-month by October 2015," the firm said, also pointing to significantly lower attrition rates in the past few years.

INDICATIONS

Regeneron gets the first-ever FDA nod for an Ebola drug. Regeneron (which you may remember from the recent news about its drug cocktail that was used to treat a certain President of the United States) just reached another milestone: An historic Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for an Ebola therapy. This particular cocktail of antibodies called Inmazeb treats one of the deadliest strains of the Zaire Ebola virus, one which kills anywhere from 60% to 90% of patients. 

COVID is delaying cancer diagnoses. A Wall Street Journal analysis of insurance claims data and lab testing information finds that critical cancer diagnostics such as mammograms have taken a backseat during the pandemic. “There’s really almost no way that doesn’t turn into increased mortality,” with the full effects likely to play out over a decade, National Cancer Institute (NCI) director Ned Sharpless told the Journal. The shutdown of so-called "elective procedures" during the pandemic's early days included screenings and cancer biopsies, especially since such patients may be especially vulnerable to COVID. (Wall Street Journal)

THE BIG PICTURE

How the NBA nailed its coronavirus bubble. Fortune's Adam Lashinsky and Brian O'Keefe have a fantastic deep dive into how the NBA was able to pull off the near-impossible with its playoff bubble. The league, somehow, was able to manage a heavily-postponed season at Disney World in Florida without a single positive COVID test while also addressing its players' demands for a bigger commitment to social justice. How? Discipline, communication, education, and good old fashionied leadership. “I think the league did a masterful job of doing the best it could to keep revenue coming in for both the teams and the players,” Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO and a member of the NBA’s board of governors, which met weekly throughout the crisis, told Adam and Brian. “Juggling those interests and being willing to put in some significant costs with some significant benefit, I just think the league was phenomenal.” Read the entire worthwhile piece here(Fortune)

REQUIRED READING

Italy is beginning to turn the COVID cornerby Bernhard Warner

How Silicon Valley is responding to wildfire seasonby Brett Haensel

HP's CEO on how the pandemic is accelerating change in business and technologyby McKenna Moore