Women On The Front Lines Of Covid-19


This post features sixteen women who are at the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. From doctors to researchers to engineers, this is just a small portion of the women working to study the disease, treat its symptoms, and innovate solutions in a world turned upside down. 

Several of these women have received accolades for their contributions, including making the list of TIME 100: The Most Influential People of 2020 and BBC 100 Women 2020 (both of these are indicated below).

Bonnie Castillo

Registered Nurse
Executive Director of National Nurses United (NNU) and of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC)
TIME 100: The Most Influential People of 2020

Bonnie Castillo has been an important advocate for nurses during these challenging times. She called out the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) early on, and has continued her work as a proponent of unions by fighting layoffs and pay cuts for nurses. COVID-19 isn’t her first crisis; Bonnie Castillo coordinated RNs for many of the natural disasters of the past decade.

Shi Zhengli, PhD

Director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)
TIME 100: The Most Influential People of 2020

Shi Zhengli’s work on coronaviruses, dating back to the SARS outbreak in the earlier 2000s, has earned her the nickname “bat woman” from intensive study into bats as an origin for many types of coronavirus. Her lab put in the groundwork for research into COVID-19 around the globe, which shows that the outbreak likely originates from a single introduction to humans, possibly from bats in Yunnan, and then spread human-to-human. The databases of bat-related diseases Shi Zhengli and her team have contributed to over the past decade are an important factor in the world’s quick response to studying the pandemic.

Amy O’Sullivan

ER Nurse
Wyckoff Hospital
TIME 100: The Most Influential People of 2020

New York City was at the forefront of the news when the outbreak started gaining traction in the US, and Amy O’Sullivan is an ER nurse who treated the city’s first COVID-19 patient, a patient who would also become the city’s first death due to COVID-19. Amy O’Sullivan ended up a patient herself and was on a ventilator for four days. Once she recovered, she went straight back to work.

Camilla Rothe, MD

Infectious Disease Specialist
University Hospital LMU Munich
TIME 100: The Most Influential People of 2020

Image source: Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times/Redux

Early on, Dr. Camilla Rothe and her team documented an asymptomatic patient for the first time. At the time, most believed the virus could only be transmitted by those displaying symptoms. We have now come to understand, thanks in large part to Dr. Rothe and her team, that 30%-40% of those infected with COVID-19 display no symptoms, but are still able to pass the virus on to others.

Siouxsie Wiles, PhD

Head of Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab, University of Auckland
BBC 100 Women 2020

If you’ve heard the phrase “flatten the curve” in the past year, you can thank Siouxsie Wiles. She works as a science communicator, and teamed up with cartoonist Toby Morris to communicate the science of COVID-19. As Siouxsie Wiles told Newsroom, “the science doesn’t end with the writing of a research article for publication in a journal, which is really just communicating it to my peers. The research really doesn’t end until it’s been communicated to anybody who needs to know that information.”

Jemimah Kariuki, MD

Obstetrics and Gynecology
Kenyatta Hospital, Nairobi
BBC 100 Women 2020

Jemimah Kariuki, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Nairobi, noticed fewer patients but more frequent complications in the early days of COVID-19, and decided to do something about it. She started a free ambulance service called Wheels for Life to help mothers in labor get the medical care they need after dark when curfew impacts public transportation. Wheels for Life is free to the patients, and the service has helped deliver hundreds of babies.

Lauren Gardner, PhD

Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University
BBC 100 Women 2020

With “Coronavirus” ending up as the top Google search globally in 2020 it’s clear that people were searching for information, and that’s just what Lauren Gardner and her team worked to provide. The COVID-19 Dashboard was created by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University and has become a centralized source of data that can be viewed in various ways, helping people understand the impact of COVID-19. Lauren Gardner led the team responsible for creating this free, easy-to-use source of reliable data.

Runa Jha, PhD

Chief Pathologist and Director at the National Public Health Laboratory in Nepal

Runa Jha is the Chief Pathologist and Director at the only lab in Nepal authorized to conduct COVID-19 testing. Her team began work on February 16, 2020 when a plane of Nepali students arrived home from Wuhan, despite the risk. Runa Jha ended up sending away her husband and daughter, living alone in her apartment to protect her loved ones. Her team currently processes about 70 samples a day and often works around-the-clock.

Pooja Chandrashekar

Medical Student at Harvard Medical School

When news of the pandemic started appearing everywhere, Pooja Chandrashekar decided to create the COVID-19 Health Literacy Project to ensure that people with varying levels of health literacy could find out what was going on through simple, easy-to-understand fact sheets in over 30 different languages. These materials are all produced in partnership with Harvard Health Publishing and vetted by faculty of Harvard Medical School.

Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH

Chief of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital
Nominated by Joe Biden for Director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Rochelle Walensky’s role in the COVID-19 narrative begins in full this month when she joins the Biden Administration as the Director of the CDC. Her medical career began at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis, and she has authored over 200 publications in addition to working as a physician. Rochelle Walensky believes her perspective on HIV/AIDS will greatly help in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, as the two viruses attack “the most vulnerable, the marginalized, the underserved.” She will work closely with other COVID team members in her new capacity, including Anthony Fauci.

Cati Brown-Johnson, PhD

Research Scientist
Stanford University School of Medicine

Living through a pandemic can be frightening, especially when being treated by medical professionals wearing PPE that obscures their faces. Cati Brown-Johnson recognized that not being able to see the faces of their healthcare providers was a source of stress for many patients and decided to apply an idea from the 2014 Ebola outbreak: The PPE Portrait Project. The simple action of attaching a smiling picture of themselves to the outside of their PPE improved the interactions healthcare workers had with their patients, and also improved the outlook of the healthcare providers themselves.

Dr. Kizzmekia “Kizzy” Corbett, PhD

Viral Immunologist
Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health (NIAID NIH)

While many people contributed to the production and testing of the Moderna vaccine, one of the leading scientists is Dr. Kizzmeia “Kizzy” Corbett. She has spent the past 6 years studying coronaviruses with the NIH, and when news of the COVID-19 virus started coming out of Wuhan she and her team got ready to work. A November poll by Axios/Ipsos found that only 55% of Black Americans would take a vaccine that was proven safe, but with Kizzy Corbett at the forefront of this important work trust for the vaccine within Black communities may improve.

Nisreen Alwan, PhD

Public Health Researcher
Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Southampton
BBC 100 Women 2020

COVID-19 can be a formidable disease in the short-term, but Nisreen Alwan recognized that long-term effects were not getting the focus they should. She began bringing attention to these effects, dubbed “Long COVID,” and calling for countries to start documenting these effects in addition to lab-confirmed cases and mortality. As the pandemic continues, Nisreen Alwan’s insistence on defining Long COVID may have great impacts on our ability to treat it quickly.

Elizabeth Anionwu

Retired Nurse
Emeritus Professor of Nursing at University of West London
BBC 100 Women 2020

Elizabeth Anionwu has dedicated her career to highlighting and addressing discrepancies in healthcare amongst minority populations in the UK. She has made great strides in advocating for a more inclusive healthcare system, but believes her work is not done. Even in her retirement, Elizabeth Anionwu has been raising awareness for Black citizens, who are four times more likely to die of COVID-19 in the UK, and Black healthcare workers, who worry over a lack of PPE.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, PhD

Infectious Disease and Public Health Expert
Commissioner of Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA)
TIME 100: The Most Influential People of 2020 
BBC 100 Women 2020

While America has grown used to the comforting presence of Anthony Fauci, Korea has had Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong. She has held daily briefings informing the people of the latest updates, and is known for her transparency and calm demeanor. Jeong Eun-kyeong is the first Commissioner of the newly-formed Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) and previously was the first female leader of its predecessor, Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Somaya Faruqi

Captain of “Afghan Dreamers” Girls Robotics Team
BBC 100 Women 2020

Somaya Faruqi and the All-Girls robotics team “Afghan Dreamers” went to work when COVID-19 reached their province in Afghanistan. The team worked with second hand car parts and other locally sourced materials to create a lightweight, easy-to-transport ventilator at a fraction of the cost, which they will be presenting to the Ministry of Public Health for approval. In a country where 85% of girls do not attend classes, Somaya Faruqi and her team are determined to use their opportunities to bring about positive change.

Millions of other women have also been working behind the scenes, from janitorial teams keeping our spaces clean to medical professionals putting their safety on the line. Take a moment to think of the women in your own life who have made an impact during the pandemic.