Readers may well think that compiling a list of health care leaders during a deadly global pandemic would be easy. And, in fact, most of the selections were glaringly obvious. The top ten this year represents an honor roll of dedicated, energetic and talented public health officials, researchers and hospital system executives.
New Jerseyans owe a debt of gratitude to everyone profiled here because as awful as the COVID-19 outbreak has been, the state would have been much worse off if not for the efforts these individuals.
But we should all take time to recognize some people whose vital work is not reflected here because of the limitations of the format.
First, of course, are the doctors, nurses, medical technicians, first responders and everyone else in the health care profession who willingly accepted the challenge of battling the virus on the ground at great personal risk.
Residents across the state were worried, concerned, anxious and even frightened as COVID19 swept across the country and to every corner of New Jersey. But many of us were able to sequester ourselves at home and carry on with our work in the company of close family. Medical and emergency professionals faced the threat every day – with some even giving their lives – to help control the pandemic.
And second, we should honor the memory of someone who would certainly have been among the honorees profiled in these pages if he hadn’t been taken from us too soon. Andrew Brooks, a researcher and professor at Rutgers University, last spring developed a saliva test for COVID-19 that yielded results far more quickly than the nasal swab test then most commonly used.
At a time when testing was considered crucial, Brooks’ breakthrough, and his ability to scale production quickly enough to make the test widely available, was a critical development in helping public health officials get a handle on where the virus was spreading.
Brooks died of a heart attack in January at age 51. But he will not be forgotten. When the history of COVID-19 is written, his name will feature prominently among the true heroes of the age.
So when you read through these profiles, remember that the fight against the pandemic was – and remains – a monumental undertaking. Right now, experts expect that the vaccination program will finally begin to extinguish the pandemic.
Summer this year should be far more enjoyable than last year. But as we begin to gather again for backyard barbecues or in ballparks, we should always recall what it was like in the early days and how some of our best fellow citizens worked tirelessly to get us through the darkness.
Please let us know what you think of our selections – or just share your personal stories. As always, the top ten leaders are ranked in numerical order. The remaining honorees are listed alphabetically.