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Rising to the Challenges of the COVID‑19 Pandemic


Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Soon after the founding of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health in 1916, our nascent field was put to the test.

The Great Influenza of 1918 swept through the world, infecting an estimated 500 million people, with an estimated 50 million deaths. Even without the tools of modern medicine, and at tremendous personal risk, public health researchers and practitioners developed and implemented strategies that helped to reduce the impact of the pandemic and allowed cities and nations to recover.

Now, in 2020, another global infectious disease challenge looms. Will the novel coronavirus leave as indelible a mark on history as the 1918 pandemic flu? It is far too early to say. Compared to the 1918 flu, the novel coronavirus appears to be as, or more, infectious, but is almost certainly significantly less deadly, particularly for children and young adults.

What is not in doubt is that a century later, the field of public health will be put to the test again.

Critical needs include understanding the epidemiology, dynamics, and biology of the new virus; developing effective therapeutics and vaccines; promoting infection control across multiple settings; identifying the right time and approach to close schools and pursue other social-distancing measures; supporting vulnerable populations who may have limited access to health care and minimal financial reserves; and communicating effectively to the public.

At the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, our epidemiologists, virologists, policy experts, and specialists in preparedness and health security are collaborating in efforts across all areas of the coronavirus response. On a daily basis, our faculty are advising government leaders and speaking to millions of people through the media. Many of our staff and students are getting involved in start-up projects. Hundreds of our alumni are working on the front lines of this fast-moving pandemic, from Beijing to Seattle/King County and across the globe. We are also taking measures to protect our own community, while continuing to deliver on our mission.

At this challenging time, I want to personally thank everyone in the field of public health for your current and future efforts to promote health and save lives—both from infectious diseases like COVID-19 as well as from many other preventable causes of suffering and death.

The work of public health often happens behind the scenes. There are few public health celebrities.

In moments of crisis, however, our job is nothing less than protecting our own communities at home and around the world.

When many lives are at risk, we rise to the challenge.

I have no doubt we will do so again.

Stay well and best wishes,

Ellen MacKenzie Signature

Ellen J. MacKenzie, PhD ’79, ScM ’75

Bloomberg Distinguished Professor
Bloomberg School of Public Health
The Johns Hopkins University

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