The Best Global Health Stories of 2020, Part 1

Our first newsletter of 2020 led with the California wildfires. Our second summary was about a mysterious pneumonia in Wuhan.

Within weeks, the virus would define not only the year but a generation.

Throughout 2020, courageous and brilliant reporters relentlessly deciphered the science, updated us on every setback, revealed the disproportionate toll on the most vulnerable, and captured the stories that remind us of our humanity.

We’re closing out the year with our annual review of the year’s most memorable reporting. Today: part 1 of pandemic coverage.—Dayna Kerecman Myers

 

Eli Saslow’s ‘Voices from the Pandemic’

For deeply personal snapshots of the people behind the horrifying COVID-19 numbers, turn to Eli Saslow of The Washington Post.
 
In his first-person Voices of the Pandemic series, Saslow gives us portraits that illustrate the pandemics depthless cruelty more vividly than statistics ever could. 
 
In September, we featured the story of the 4-generation Sunset Restaurant in Maryland, lost to the pandemic.
 
And last month, we surfaced Saslow’s interview with Amber Elliott, a Missouri county health director facing the wrath of anti-maskers and threats to herself and her children.
 
There are many more memorable pieces. Read them all

 

He Tried to Warn the World

The February death of a young doctor in Wuhan who sounded a warning early in the coronavirus outbreak spurred an outpouring of grief and outrage.
 
The authorities tried to silence Li Wenliang. They failed.
 
CNN interviewed Li on his hospital bed and captured the angry reactions on Chinese social media before they were deleted.

Americans watching from afar and thought health workers could never face censorship here were in for a rude awakening.

Later, in April, Tracy Wem Liu penned an essential long read, Witnessing Wuhan, for Project Syndicate, putting into stark relief the “massive and lasting human cost” paid by Wuhan’s doctors, nurses, and other health workers “whose names we will never know.”


The Infinite Wisdom of Ed Yong

Throughout the pandemic, a new Ed Yong piece in The Atlantic has always been a moment to stop everything and start reading. 
 
A standout among standouts: Back in August, we featured Yong’s story charting America’s tragically flawed COVID-19 response and the shaky foundations is was built on: “shredded” social safety nets, a deficit of expertise, and chronic underfunding of public health, to name just a few...
 
Worst of all: It was largely “predictable and preventable,” Yong reports.
 
Then just this week, Yong deftly explained how the pandemic has laid bare the best and worst of science. A vaccine for a novel disease in mere months (“Holy mackerel!” as Tony Fauci put it), unprecedented numbers of journal submissions… but also “warped incentives,” “poseur” papers and deep biomedical bias.

 

Inside a Venezuelan COVID Ward

In a moving report from Venezuela, the AP’s Scott Smith described how the country with a shattered health system and a severe shortage of nurses tried to cope.

With heartbreaking details, Smith introduced us to Elena Suazo—a cafeteria worker who makes $2/month—cares for her father, sick with the virus, carefully washing her 2 sets of PPE every day.

 

Locked Up and Locked Down 

The massive COVID-19 outbreak at Arkansas’ Cummins Unit penitentiary was a foregone conclusion. Inmates slept close enough to smell each others’ breath, writes Rachel Aviv in a hard but necessary read from The New Yorker
 
But when a facility run day-to-day by inmates was finally locked down, staff inherited daily operations and the fragile contract between inmates and staff deteriorated. Meals and security were neglected; resentment spread, even as staff and inmates had more in common than ever.  
 
As one inmate put it: “This is bigger than me as an inmate and you as a low-level correctional officer. We’ve both been subjected to the same conditions.”

 

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