Female Scientists at the Forefront of COVID-19 Research & Regulations
By Desiree Goff • March 30, 2020•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence
As practicing attorneys we need others to understand what we are writing, understand what we are saying in court, and understand our recommendations to clients. This may mean helping decipher recent legislation and how it impacts businesses, researchers, and the general public. What is the point of having regulations or guidelines if the public can’t interpret them or follow them?
Instead of focusing on lawyers who work in science-related legal fields, I want to focus this month on the female researchers and scientists who are dealing with changing regulations and guidelines daily while attempting to develop containment methods and diagnostics for COVID-19. These inspiring women are charging ahead, confronting daunting regulations and challenges. While they don’t have the legal training we do, they still must navigate regulations often overseen and drafted by lawyers.
An excellent example of this is seen in Dr. Helen Chu. Dr. Chu is credited with being the first to identify the presence of COVID-19 in Washington state. For months, Dr. Chu collected nasal swabs to figure out if the virus was present. The federal government denied her initial request to rework her lab’s testing from flu to COVID-19. Despite the denied request, Dr. Chu and her team started running the tests on February 25, 2020. A local teenager, with no travel history, came back positive. Even with these results however, the federal government attempted to stop her with a cease and desist.* The fight for testing in her state, and every state continues.
What is most interesting about this attempt by regulation to block the testing, is that Dr. Chu persisted. She persisted in testing and persisted in confronting regulations in pursuit of the public good.** While this produces questions of ethics, without her persistence, when would the testing have begun otherwise? What other researchers or scientists failed to test because of the federal government’s stance? When would we have learned about the presence of COVID-19 in the United States? And what difference might that have made? Would it have delayed the inevitable panic for of all things toilet paper?
While we don’t know the answers to those questions, we can look to Dr. M. Jana Broadhurst, a pathologist and microbiologist and the medical director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit Clinical Laboratory, for direction on the best methods of tackling a pandemic. Dr. Broadhurst has been working 20 hour days to develop a faster and more efficient diagnostic test than the one originally provided by the CDC. She has produced a test which gets results in four to six hours instead of several days.*** However, she faces the daily challenge of running into protocols and procedures for solutions that are not in a manual or textbook.
Dr. Broadhurst emphasizes three pillars of outbreak response: the diagnostic stage in which carriers are identified and studied; the therapeutic stage in which appropriate care is provided; and the vaccine stage, when future outbreaks are prevented.**** In her opinion, diagnosis liberates the patients. Diagnostic testing is essential to determining where the outbreak is going and what communities are affected. She sees the future of testing to include the distribution of testing kits to communities and clinics for rapid results and in order to manage the virus at a local level.
When asked by a journalist what makes a badass woman, Dr. Broadhurst stated “the willingness to step outside your comfort zone and do what you know is right even if you don’t have a rule book to follow. . . you can apply your education, your training, and your experiences to really be a leader.”***
May we all follow this advice. Thank you Dr. Chu and Dr. Broadhurst for your persistence, hard work and leadership.
*Bowman, Nick. How Seattle Flu Study Defied Federal Government to Test for Coronavirus. March 12, 2020.
**Theirer, Adam. How the US Bothced Coronavirus Testing. American Institute for Economic Research. March 12, 2020.
***Pulia, Shalayne. What It’s Like to Be a Scientist on the Front Lines of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Instyle. March 27, 2020.
****Chiarella, Tom. Inside the National Quarantine Center, There Is No Fear of Coronavirus. There is Only Urgency. Esquire. March 15, 2020.
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