Demetrius Freeman
  • Age
  • Title
    Senior director, system-wide special pathogens program
  • Company
    NYC Health + Hospitals

When Madad appeared, leading a simulation exercise of a highly transmissible respiratory disease outbreak, in the opening scenes of Pandemic, the spookily timed Netflix docuseries that debuted earlier this year, she was already weeks into dealing with the real thing off-screen. As senior director of system-wide special pathogens for NYC Health + Hospitals, the nation’s largest public health care system, Madad began tracking the novel coronavirus, now known as the cause of COVID-19, late last year. She describes her life since—preparing for and responding to the arrival of a new, highly infectious disease in the nation’s most densely populated city—as both a sprint and a marathon. Of course, the marathon is far from over. With New York’s COVID-19 infection rates now among the lowest in the country, Madad, who published a national hospital preparedness playbook for such respiratory disease outbreaks in 2019, is focused on preventing a resurgence of the disease in NYC. She acknowledges pandemic drills didn’t fully prepare public health experts like herself for all the challenges that came with this one—like the national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). But in late 2019, before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, Madad had warned that America’s flagging commitment to (and funding of) bio-preparedness made it vulnerable to such a crisis. In an op-ed published with Robert Klain, the Obama administration's Ebola response coordinator, she wrote, “The day will come when a dangerous pathogen will arrive in the United States once again.” Indeed.