Reporter's Notebook

Highlights From the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival
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From June 22 to July 1, Atlantic writers and editors are at the Aspen Ideas Festival and Spotlight Health, in Aspen, Colorado. View all the coverage from Aspen here, and check out the thread below for highlights from the event.

Show None Newer Notes

Anthony Fauci on Americans' Overblown Fear of Pandemics

A worker removes the contents of the apartment where a man diagnosed with the Ebola virus was staying in Dallas, Texas, in 2014. Jim Young / Reuters

Recalling the Ebola outbreak of 2014, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, lamented the attention lavished on the four patients who were diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

“The panic that that generated in this country diverted our effort and our attention from worrying about where the problem was,” which was in West Africa, Fauci said Friday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.

Fauci himself treated one of the American Ebola patients, and said his colleagues were skittish around him then, worried that they would contract the virus from him somehow, despite the fact that the virus is spread through bodily fluids and isn’t airborne.

“Your risk of dying on the [Capital] Beltway on the way to work at the NIH is thousands and thousands of times higher than the risk of getting Ebola from a health worker who treated a patient with Ebola,” he said he told them.

“The American public, I guess understandably, has an issue with the concept of a new risk,” he said. “You live with risks every day. [But] when a new risk comes in that’s far less risky than the risks that you’re living with, you get panicked about the new risk.”

Mike Blake / Reuters

When Michele Norris, journalist and founder of the Race Card Project, goes to the doctor’s office, her mother calls her to be sure she’s not planning to wear trousers. “She says, ‘You’re wearing something nice, aren’t you?’” Norris said during a panel at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic. “She’s so worried about us wearing something presentable.”

Norris was hitting on a common fear people of color have when they interact with the medical system: That they won’t be taken seriously. Studies show African-Americans often receive inferior care to white patients, potentially because of racial bias. For example, white medical students hold false beliefs about racial differences in basic biology, which may contribute to the fact that black people are less likely to be treated for pain.

Norris’ strategy—and others like it—are intended to make sure doctors see her as they would their white patients. But sometimes not even these types of tactics are enough to quell racial bias.

As Angel Kyodo Williams, a mixed-race author who was also on the panel, shared, she’s had doctors write on her chart that she’s “intelligent and well-spoken.”

Just watch.