Steady Leadership During COVID-19

From Kansas City Medicine, Third Quarter 2020
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Lee A. Norman, MD, has been a steady source of fact-based information throughout the COVID-19 crisis as Kansas’ secretary of the Department of Health and Environment. He has earned wide respect for his response to the crisis, despite frequent public hostility to mask-wearing and shutdown orders. For his efforts, he has been chosen to receive the 2020 KCMS Patient and Community Advocate Award.

He has strived to deliver consistent messaging about protective measures such as mask wearing. “My goal has been to provide data and science in a transparent and understandable way. The level of misinformation and anti-science sentiment has been challenging,” Dr. Norman said.

One example occurred in August. To illustrate the impact of mask wearing, he presented data showing how the seven-day rolling average of COVID-19 cases per capita had declined sharply from mid-July through early August in counties with mask orders, compared to remaining flat in those counties without. Dr. Norman’s chart with the data received wide media coverage.

Dr. Norman also has used creative ways to inform the public beyond the numbers. For several months, he hosted a children’s Q&A session about COVID-19 on Facebook. He continues to host a “Faces of COVID-19” Facebook series featuring people who have had COVID-19 or are working on the front lines.

“It’s easy to criticize or be skeptical of government officials. It’s hard to be critical of someone giving their first-hand experience of what they’ve gone through,” Dr. Norman explained. “The stories provide an emotional attachment that translates to, ‘How can I protect my family and loved ones?’”

Pandemic planning and response is nothing new to Dr. Norman. In his 27 years as a senior health system official, including service as vice president and chief medical officer of the University of Kansas Medical Center from 2007 to 2017, he has been involved with previous pandemics and has lectured on the topic.

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