Fighting COVID-19

Holden Thorp


By Laurie Paolicelli

Orange County tips its hat to many of the North Carolina Tar Heels and local leaders who are shaping the future through activism. Here are their voices, in their own words. These individuals are doctors and scientists fighting COVID-19, advocates pushing for equality and justice, and communicators standing up for truth. May they inspire us all.

Holden Thorp

Holden Thorp served as the 10th chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008 – June 30, 2013, and has since moved on to become Editor-in-Chief of the Science family of journals, the peer-reviewed academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“Although 2020 will certainly go down as a year that could not get much worse,” he writes, “there is plenty to be proud of and reason to hope that things will be getting better. The virus was confronted. Epidemiologists and other scientists became household names. And the scientific community found a much stronger voice, one that will serve us all well in 2021 and beyond.” 

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett. Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu. Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu for The New York Times

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett

Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, a Hillsborough native and graduate of Orange High School, and who obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014 from UNC-Chapel Hill, is receiving national praise for her contributions in discovering the Moderna vaccine, which was developed to fight COVID-19. One of her biggest fans is Dr. Anthony Fauci, top infectious disease expert and head of the Centers for Disease Control. Asked a question during a forum hosted by the National Urban League – “Can you talk about the input of African American scientists in the vaccine process?” – he did not hesitate when giving his answer. “Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is an African American scientist who is right at the forefront of the development of the vaccine.”

Corbett first made headlines in March 2020 as part of a team of scientists who spoke with former President Donald Trump at the NIH. “I felt that it was important to give visibility to younger scientists and also to people of color who have often worked behind the scenes,” Corbett said, “and who essentially have done the dirty work for these large efforts toward a vaccine.”

Quintana Stewart

Quintana Stewart, Orange County Public Health Director

For the last year, Quintana Stewart has overseen Orange County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has coordinated with numerous government officials, kept residents safe, worked to enact new health guidelines, and organized free COVID-19 testing throughout the county.

“Quintana Stewart has been an invaluable partner for UNC-Chapel Hill in the fight against COVID-19,” says UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. “Time and again, we have relied on her for her wisdom, guidance, and collaboration as we have together worked to ensure that the members of our community are safe.” Provost Bob Blouin concurs: “Her partnership has been vital to our community’s safety and well-being. We are all fortunate to have her support as we move forward together.”

David Wohl treats COVID-19 patients, is a vaccine trial investigator, and sets up crucial testing regimens. (File photo).

David Wohl, MD

In 2019 Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at UNC Health in Chapel Hill, mostly divided his time between treating patients with HIV and helping study the long-term effects of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In 2020, Wohl devoted nearly all his time to the coronavirus. He helped set up UNC’s virus testing program and to develop procedures so doctors, nurses and others at UNC’s 11 hospitals could treat COVID-19 patients without getting infected themselves. He’s also helped lead research and clinical trials for coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

The media has turned to Wohl to help explain the ever-changing pandemic and the science behind it. He takes part in press conferences and speaks with reporters every week.

Zeynep Tufekci

Zeynep Tufekci

Zeynep Tufekci, Associate Professor at the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS), has been praised for her early warnings and sound advice on the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues. As a tenured professor, she spent most of her time the past year fighting against misinformation. Her extensive research on the social impacts of digital technology and misinformation, and how humans interact with each other and the sociology of pandemics, proved to be essential in her efforts to help mitigate the spread of this virus. Tufekci has continued to advance the pandemic discussion in 2021, asking “Why Aren’t We Wearing Better Masks?” in her Jan. 13, 2021 column for The Atlantic, and blasting vaccination red tape in a New York Times op ed. 

We’ll leave the last word to Gregg Gonsalves, co-director of the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale University, in a recent interview for National Geographic Magazine. “It’s been amazing to see how people are using their talents and gifts to address this pandemic. People all want to do something, whether their training is in law, geography, anthropology, fine arts, or similarly far-flung fields. That is the ending I’m trying to believe in, where we emerge from this with a renewed appreciation of science as humanity’s best chance of salvation from suffering and untimely death.”


Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.

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