San Francisco Marin Medical Society Blog

Coronavirus: Special Communication from Our Public Health Officers - Modeling a Balanced Response to COVID-19

The spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a global health emergency by the WHO. This is a serious and rapidly developing situation, affecting thousands of people worldwide. As the virus spreads beyond its origins in Wuhan, China, the medical community must model a balanced, proactive and informed response.


Currently, a person’s risk for the illness is based primarily on where they, or someone they have had close contact with, have travelled. There is no racial, ethnic or cultural basis for the disease. Yet, we know that bias is already surfacing. Members of the Asian community, especially the Chinese community, have been subjected to discrimination and exclusion, in Asia, Europe, Australia and the United States.


News media are reporting from around the world stories of hostility and discrimination toward Chinese customers and students, and insults hurled in person and on social media. This is unacceptable and harmful. This is a common and unfortunate societal response to epidemics, and we must do better.


We know that racial, ethnic and cultural discrimination cause bad health outcomes. In the case of an emerging illness, stigma about the illness makes people less likely to come forward, to seek help or ask questions. That makes it harder to fight the disease and protect community health.


As physicians we can reduce public misperception, fear and discrimination in our response to COVID-19, staying grounded in the latest evidence. We can remind our patients that currently, the best way to prevent the spread of infection is to practice consistent hand washing, cough or sneeze into your sleeve, and stay home if you are sick. We can reinforce that masks do not prevent illness, but can be helpful for sick people to wear, so that they do not spread germs to others.


Let’s come together with compassion and unity during this stressful time. It’s good for our health, and for the health of the communities we serve.


Tomás Aragón, MD DrPH, Public Health Officer, City and County of San Francisco

Matthew Willis, MD MPH, Public Health Officer, Marin County



The San Francisco Department of Public Health has two relevant websites:

- For clinicians:

- For the general public:

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