Covid-19 Warriors at UCSF are Often Female, Always Fierce and Unusually Diverse

Dr. Monica Gandhi knows what San Francisco will be remembered for during the pandemic: It’s the city’s low mortality rate, claimed by San Francisco officials as a testament to the wisdom of an early shutdown.  

But, while Gandhi would be the first to acknowledge the blessing of fewer deaths,  she looks at the lower mortality rate and sees something other than prescient city officials. The main factors, she argues, “are our privilege and the wealth in this city.”  

Wealth, she said, allowed much of San Francisco to shelter in place. Weeks before the city shut down, many tech companies had already sent their workers home.  

Such not-so-fast correctives to popular narratives have become increasingly common in San Francisco’s pandemic sphere. Sometimes the assertions land as zingers, other times as matter-of-fact reminders, but nearly all come from a group of female UCSF researchers — most of them women of color. If not for their dazzling resumes, flawless manners, and white lab coats, they might be confused with community activists. And, in a sense, they are, although their activism is shaped by academic pursuits and reams of data. Insofar as San Francisco’s pandemic year has proved exceptional in any way, it has, in no small part,  been in the individual voices and collective activity of these women. Each is a role model for legions of other young women interested in science. Together they’re a powerful example of the benefits of diversity.  

Gandhi, Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, Dr. Diane Havlir, Dr. Kim Rhoads, Dr. Alicia Fernandez, and Dr. Carina Marquez — a young epidemiologist who, like Fernandez, lives in the Mission — are all researchers who have pushed against entrenched narratives over the last year. Their prominence in Covid debates and research owes nothing to an old-boys network. Instead, they are women who have seized the initiative, each of them helping to