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Protests, conspiracies and Twitter: Two Idaho doctors wrote a book about the pandemic

UPDATED: Wed., June 23, 2021

By Nicole Foy Idaho Statesman

Two local doctors who have spent much of the COVID-19 pandemic advising Idaho leaders still have more to say — and they’ll get their chance in an upcoming book.

Boise-based doctors David Pate and Ted Epperly spent the end of 2020 and the first half of this year writing a book that reviews the mistakes of this pandemic and preparations needed for the next one.

Their book, “Preparing for the Next Pandemic: Lessons, Stories and Recommendations”, will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press, Pate wrote in a tweet. While the authors said they included plenty of behind-the-scenes insight on how the COVID-19 pandemic played out in Idaho, Epperly and Pate also compare how different countries, states — and even Idaho counties — handled the pandemic, and their differing results.

“What we decided is we can’t probably save ourselves from this pandemic, but we pray to God that we can help document and chronicle the lessons learned from this,” Pate said. “We can tell some of the stories of this pandemic — some from behind the scenes — and we can come up with recommendations (for) those people that are going to be preparing us for the next pandemic. … And there will be a next one.”

The book includes more than 100 recommendations for how governments and organizations should prepare for the next pandemic. Epperly and Pate drew on their personal experiences as well as interviews with others. Pate led St. Luke’s Health System for a decade and has helped advise Gov. Brad Little on Idaho’s pandemic response. Epperly is the president and CEO of Family Medicine Residency of Idaho, and he was one of the Ada County representatives on the board for Central District Health.

While both were busy behind the scenes and on the front lines, Epperly and Pate also had public-facing roles that could attract negative attention. Amid advising the governor and schools on COVID-19 safety measures, Pate spent many days answering nearly every question that members of the public posed to him on Twitter and in other forums. Epperly helped Idaho’s largest county make public health decisions while increasingly rowdy protesters gathered outside the district offices or his home .

“That disconnect between trying to do the right things for the right reasons and some of the public’s reactions being so negative was part of the impetus for why we thought we had a story to tell,” Epperly said.

Epperly specifically wrote most of a chapter about the impact virulent public opposition to and protests of masks or COVID-19 restrictions had on public health professionals like himself. In December, a board meeting of Central District Health was canceled abruptly due to safety concerns from small groups of protesters gathered outside the homes of Epperly and former Ada County Commissioner Diana Lachiondo.

“I was born and raised in Idaho, and these were Idaho citizens,” Epperly told the Idaho Statesman. “I was shocked.”

Writing the book with the pandemic still raging, while also looking back on the fallout of decisions from earlier months, was painful and cathartic for the authors. It was common for Epperly and Pate to give advice that was ignored by public officials and the general public alike. Epperly said working on the book, in those situations, was a “catharsis.”

“When I get very troubled by things, one of the ways I deal with it is to write,” Epperly said. “To be able to put this on paper, for me, was therapeutic.”

Pate and Epperly also mentioned they were shocked by what they viewed as the general public’s “immaturity” or apparent lack of compassion for those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic — the elderly, nursing home residents, people with medical conditions, and members of minority groups like Hispanics, Blacks and Native Americans. The “self-centered approach” of a public they had expected to rally around a common cause became a central theme in the book.

“Really at the end of the day, we’re telling the story of two pandemics,” Epperly said. “There’s the pandemic of the virus, but there’s the pandemic of the human response to the virus as well. And that is quite the story.”

“Preparing For The Next Pandemic: Lessons, Stories and Recommendations” by Dr. David Pate and Dr. Ted Epperly will likely be published sometime in the first half of 2022 by Johns Hopkins University Press.

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