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CNN’s Sanjay Gupta on covering the coronavirus: ‘I think there is intrinsic value to hope’

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
 

By KK Ottesen (original source Washington Post Magazine)

“Sanjay Gupta, 50, is the Emmy Award-winning chief medical correspondent at CNN. He is also an associate professor of neurosurgery at Emory University and associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

As both a journalist and a practicing doctor, I’m sure you think a lot about how to balance the need for people to understand the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic, but not provoke hysteria.

That is the question. The inflection point between hope and honesty — that’s how I think of it. And my medical career has been helpful because that’s what we’re always doing with patients. I think there is intrinsic value to hope. It shouldn’t just be labeled the opposite of honesty. But as doctors and as reporters, it can never come at the expense of honesty.

For example, there was a discussion about potentially new therapeutics, one of them being chloroquine, this malaria drug. There’s a 20-patient study out of France that was promising. It’s very early, so I’m hopeful. But there’s no way that I could say that this is going to be it if the evidence isn’t there. You know? There was another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine about these two antiretroviral drugs, HIV drugs, that had a lot of promise. Everyone was really excited. They started the trial one week after the first patient was diagnosed in China. And they were, like, this is going to be it; this is going to get us out of this mess. And [then] it showed no benefit over existing supportive care. That’s why you do studies. And it’s not a zero-sum game. I mean, someone suggested: Well, just give them the chloroquine. It’s a pretty safe drug. And maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. That’s not how you approach science — and if for no other reason than that you might then divert time and resources and energy away from something that could work and really make a monumental difference.

So, yeah, I am hopeful. Who isn’t? Everybody on the planet right now is hopeful. It’s a pandemic. But not just among doctors, but good reporters. You got to be fully transparent about what you know and what you don’t know.”

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