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Following up on Dr. Atul Gawande’s appointment to the Biden COVID-19 task force, we are heartened by his recent remarks acknowledging the importance of racism as a public health crisis. This is particularly important in the context of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, the continued challenges around COVID-19 patients dying while separated from those who matter most to them, and the imperative to ensure those living with a serious illness, including COVID-19, maintain as high a quality of life as possible.

In a recent Financial Times article, Dr. Gawande expands on an illustrative scenario in which “…an elderly relative in a different state who cannot go to a nursing home to have 24/7 care because the rules mean she would not be able to see her husband — potentially ever again.” This kind of case demonstrates the need for pandemic response policies and protocols that elevate not just survival, but the unique needs and preferences of individual people and families.

“It’s appropriate in that early period to say, ‘OK, only quantity of life matters and we’re not gonna let this virus spread and kill people,’” he explains. “But we need to bring back what we learnt over the last few years, which is: it’s not just about keeping people safe, it’s also about being able to have meaningful lives and not torture people.”

Dr. Gawande also brings a personal connection to the pandemic in addition to his professional insight. During a September interview with public radio program “The World,” he shared his concerns for family members and how they have informed his perception of the pandemic.

“My own mother is in a senior living community, where the virus began to spread widely, and you had very high death rates among people that she and I know living in or around her,” said Dr. Gawande. “And it terrified me. The idea that she, at 83, with her share of comorbid conditions, could die from this.”

As a leading voice in serious illness care, Dr. Gawande brings a unique and important perspective to this position. C-TAC is pleased to see that he will be helping to address the pandemic for the next Administration.

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