The country’s top expert on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is scheduled to speak with Santa Clara County leaders next week to discuss the ongoing pandemic and logistics for lowering case numbers while establishing safe reopening plans.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leader on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, will address regional and national successes and challenges during a virtual discussion.
The Oct. 30 virtual event is organized by Silicon Valley Leadership Group, an advocacy nonprofit that represents more than 340 local employers on issues that affect the economic health and livability in the area. The group arranged the panel with the assistance of local leaders, including Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, who worked with Fauci on the regional pandemic response.
“We could not be more excited to host someone of (Fauci’s) caliber,” said Ahmad Thomas, who joined SVLG as CEO in August, told San José Spotlight. “There’s no bigger issue in our region, our economy, our businesses, our state, our nation than this pandemic, and managing through this.”
With a steady rise in COVID-related deaths in the United States — recently passing 221,000 — Thomas said forward-looking discussions and planning are essential.
“(We need to see) where our executives, our member companies and the most innovative companies in the world can add value to help solve problems not only for the region and the state, but for our country and the world,” he said.
One of SVLG’s directives is addressing the economic challenges that Silicon Valley companies and employees continue to face during the pandemic.
“I want to ensure that we are doing everything humanly possible to keep our economy afloat, but also managing all of that with the health concerns that are extremely serious,” he said.
The group is also overseeing concerns surrounding vaccine distribution logistics for the public.
Following their discussion, Fauci and Thomas will be joined by local experts — including Cody and Santa Clara County COVID-19 Testing Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib — in a discussion of the local, regional and state-level effects of COVID-19.
Cody gained national recognition for her response to the virus, becoming the first public health officer in the United States to order a countywide shelter-in-place on March 16. While Cody’s action likely led to a decreased COVID-19 spread, it also stirred up threats and intimidation. A Gilroy man was arrested in September after sending letters that included veiled threats to Cody’s life.
The same is true for many California health officers, with some choosing early retirement in place of the pushback. Fauci himself now has a security detail after receiving threats and harassment against his family.
For Thomas — a husband to a frontline doctor and a son of a retired nurse — the negative reaction is upsetting.
“I don’t have a lot of patience for folks who threaten (health care workers) — it’s a really cowardly, weak thing to do,” he said. “I see up-close the sacrifice that our nurses and doctors make … do we want to see a reopen as soon as possible? Of course — but it needs to be done in a way that’s smart.”
At the time of the county’s shelter-in-place order, there were approximately 258 confirmed cases across six Bay Area counties; as recently as Oct. 20, there were 23,458 cases in Santa Clara County alone.
Cindy Chavez, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, said Fauci represents what public health is all about.
“He will speak truth to power no matter who that is and is masterful in his role of connecting with the public about their concerns over COVID-19 and educating them about the realities of the virus,” she said.
The forum will close out with a panel on racial justice and equity, discussing solutions to the challenges underrepresented minorities in Silicon Valley face during the pandemic. As Thomas emphasized, business leaders must find ways to provide support to essential workers — largely from marginalized communities — in establishing safer practices.
“Black and brown communities are hurting, and COVID is only exacerbating many of the divisions that were already there,” Thomas said. “As we turn to the vaccine and the logistics around that, that’s going to be a real question to address — how do we get those frontline workers the vaccinations soon, so they can go to their jobs and be safe and protected?”
Ultimately, Thomas said he hopes the conversation with Fauci will tie these topics together, providing forward-thinking ideas for where efforts should be focused and where local leaders can add value.
“I truly hope that we will get some guidance and direction and then immediately move to mobilize and act in concert with the feedback from Dr. Fauci, Dr. Cody and Dr. Fenstersheib,” he said. “Really, we’re here to take guidance and immediately act.”
The virtual event will be available in limited viewing to the public Oct. 30, with the full forum available virtually on the SVLG website and YouTube Nov. 2.
Contact Grace Stetson at [email protected] and follow her @grace_m_stetson on Twitter.