“We Only Talk When There’s a Crisis”: Q&A with Dr. Peter Hotez

By Quinn Kobrin,

On Wednesday, LEAP Ambassadors and alumni signed on for another virtual event hosted by the World Affairs Council, featuring Dr. Peter Hotez to discuss his take on COVID-19, including what we’ve learned from this pandemic, and how to proceed.

After a greeting from Maryanne Maldonado…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, World Affairs Council--Greater Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez

…Ronan O’Malley…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, World Affairs Council--Greater Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez

…gave a brief introduction of Dr. Hotez…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, World Affairs Council--Greater Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez

which included Hotez’s fine work at the Baylor School of Tropical Medicine.

Dr. Hotez started off by telling Mr. O’Malley with some amusement, “We only see each other when there’s a crisis.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, World Affairs Council--Greater Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez

He then proceeded to discuss what he knew about the virus so far. He said that he first heard about the virus in January, when reports were released on the website bioRxiv. According to Hotez, people did not pay much attention to coronaviruses in general until about 2003, when SARS-CoV-1 emerged. When that happened, unlike now, if a person got infected, they had to go to the hospital  Worldwide, only 8,098 people got infected.

Coronavirus, unlike SARS and, later Ebola, is asymptomatic in some people and has a longer incubation period, allowing seemingly healthy people to pass on the disease to more people.  And that is one reason this disease has resulted in, and will continue to result in, more deaths.

Mr. O’Malley then asked if we should be concerned if China or other nations repress information about deadly diseases in the future. Dr. Hotez said he did not care to speculate or place blame at the moment, but rather said that now is the time to save lives. He reminded us that whether or not missteps by officials, governments, or scientists occurred, we should be patient, because “things always go wrong at the beginning of a pandemic.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, World Affairs Council--Greater Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez

Dr. Hotez then spoke about the spread of transmission, which I found both intriguing and informative. He explained that COVID-19 is the name of the disease, while SARS-2 is the name of the virus. This distinction is important, because you can be a carrier of the virus without being affected, and transmit the virus and the disease to someone else unwittingly. He compared this to being HIV positive versus having AIDS.

It was at this point in the online seminar that I heard the most inspiring statement of the evening. Dr. Hotez explained that, when he first learned about COVID-19, and the possible consequences of inaction, he decided to lead the charge of people talking about it and informing people about it. Because of his work and research on SARS, and various other diseases and viruses, he anticipated that the impact of this virus would be great. He shared with us a quote from Winston Churchill – a frequent resource for inspiration in these troubling times – saying, “I was not the lion, but it fell on me to give the lion’s roar.” From my perspective, I can see this being true of everyone who has stepped up to act out of duty, and personally, I am grateful for those calls to action.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, World Affairs Council--Greater Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez

In discussing the possibility of a second wave hitting the U.S., and how we might respond as a nation, Dr. Hotez voiced his concerns both about whether or not companies would be willing to comply with work from home standards again, and if people would be able to overcome the trauma of this initial wave. As we prepare to reopen as a nation, and being cognizant of the likelihood of a second wave, Hotez recommended that we open only a few states at a time, observe how well that works, and proceed from there.

As always, it was a treat to hear from an expert brought in by the World Affairs Council…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, World Affairs Council--Greater Houston, Dr. Peter Hotez

…and we look forward to next week’s event. Thanks to the WAC, LEAP Ambassadors and so many others can stay informed and hear a variety of facts and opinions by experts and leaders, and we are grateful for the opportunity to keep learning despite these uncertain times.