Throughout the United States, doctors and nurses at the forefront of the fight against the coronavirus want to share what they are seeing and hearing with the public. But some fear that doing so could get them punished or fired by hospital administrators or medical-staffing agencies. Recent press reports document that many institutions have formally warned employees against speaking out, while some have already terminated various medical professionals.
NYU’s Langone Medical Center is among the institutions that sent a written warning to its health-care workers. It later asserted in a public statement that limiting the speech of its doctors and nurses is a long-standing policy intended to protect patient and staff confidentiality. “Because information related to coronavirus is constantly evolving, it is in the best interest of our staff and the institution that only those with the most updated information are permitted to address these issues with the media,” the statement said. “We have a responsibility to the public at large to ensure that the information they receive from our institution is accurate.”
Does that rationale stand up to scrutiny? To think that through, I called Nicholas Christakis, a physician and professor who directs the Human Nature Lab at Yale. For 15 years, he has studied different contagions, including the H1NI flu. One study probed what happens when a biological contagion such as H1N1 unfolds alongside a behavioral shift, or a so-called social contagion, such as wearing masks. How quickly must a social contagion spread through human networks to arrest a biological contagion?