The opportunity was too great to pass up.
Last winter, Dr. Ted Epperly called his friend of more than a decade, Dr. David Pate, with a proposition.
The Idaho doctors’ perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic might make for an intriguing read. Epperly thought coauthoring a book would play off their strengths, Pate’s knowledge of biology and virology and Epperly’s background in social anthropology.
It wasn’t exactly a shattering idea to Pate – who retired after 11 years as St. Luke’s president and chief executive officer just before the pandemic came to Idaho in early 2020.
“I’d been working with the state, schools, businesses, trying to help them navigate – my wife, Lynette, said during it all, ‘You need to write a book about this,’” Pate said.
“When Ted called, I was like, ‘This is a sign.’ I said yes immediately.”
Epperly, president and CEO of the Family Medicine Residency of Idaho and a former Central District Health board member, suggested splitting up the chapters to ease the workload, then reading what the other had written to add notes.
The two started in December, and the book – and its 16 chapters – was done by the end of March.
“It was like 1+1=5,” Epperly said. “We definitely pushed one another.”
Throughout the pandemic, Pate has been a prominent source of COVID-19 information on Twitter. Distilling some of the advice and knowledge he presents there became an important part of the book.
The book, titled “Preparing for the Next Pandemic: Lessons, Stories and Recommendations” is expected to be published in summer 2022 by Johns Hopkins University Press.
“Most books on COVID-19 will focus on what went wrong, and certainly a lot did, but we also point out what went well,” Pate said. “Our focus wasn’t so much to assign blame, but identify some of those mistakes and say, ‘What can we learn from this?’”
The book includes 117 recommendations, having to do with everything from how the concept of “herd immunity” is viewed to the much-neglected, much-maligned Strategic National Stockpile and supply chains, for entities ranging from the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to schools, health care providers and individuals.
Shopping the book to different agents and publishers was a task in itself, but the duo was glad to find a home with the nation’s oldest university press.
“For them to pick up this book from two guys in Idaho, it’s pretty amazing,” Epperly said. “They saw something in this book, this forward-looking approach, and wanted to be a part of it.”
Pate said there is plenty to be learned, including being more proactive regarding threats and recognizing risks from which viruses can emanate, looking to leaders who respect science and having experts speak up when falsehoods are promoted.
“In terms of its damage to all people, this is a 3/10 virus. The next one might be a 9,” Epperly said.
“We can’t afford to be as boneheaded with that as we were with this one. We’re polarized as a nation; we didn’t come together like World War II. We need to do that when the next one hits.”
The last pandemic on this scale was in 1918, and it is clear that many Americans either thought such a thing could never happen – or were unaware of what happened with the influenza outbreak of a century ago. That was an important piece of Epperly and Pate’s approach to writing the book.
“There were lessons to be learned now from 100 years ago, lessons from other viruses that weren’t remembered or were disregarded,” Pate said.
“We thought, ‘Let’s capture this moment, and even in a couple years people can remember the details. Let’s write the book we wish someone wrote in 1918 that could provide us teachable moments so we don’t make the same mistakes again.’”
Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.