To fight COVID-19, a young epidemiologist bridges the gulf between science and U.S. politics

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“We must not become numb. Those numbers represent … people who were loved,” says Caitlin Rivers of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

KATTY HUERTAS

By Kelly ServickSep. 10, 2020 , 12:10 PM

Science’s COVID-19 reporting is supported by the Pulitzer Center and the Heising-Simons Foundation.

In May, epidemiologist Caitlin Rivers made a rare outing amid coronavirus stay-at-home orders. She had been called for the first time in her career to testify before Congress—and she was intimidated. “You’re looking at the dais and seeing all these eminent people. It’s a really powerful experience,” she says.

Then, questions about the U.S. response to COVID-19 started to fly, and Rivers was in her element. Five years out of graduate school, she is already well-versed in talking to policymakers about the science of pandemics. She has developed models to predict the spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome and Ebola, briefed the Department of Defense (DOD) on outbreak response, and tracked respiratory disease among Army service members. She’s now at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, a think tank that advises U.S. and international leaders on epidemics and disasters.

In formal reports, private conversations with congressional staffers and local officials, and …

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