Dr. Celia Divino P’13, former trustee, spoke to Upper School students at this year’s Anne Sophie Laumont ’99 lecture about the impact of COVID-19 and considerations for mitigating the racial and ethnic disparities of this pandemic.
Dr. Divino, the first tenured female professor at Mount Sinai and the hospital’s Chief of the Division of General Surgery, conducts surgery, teaching, research and the training of general surgery residents. And now, she also plays a key role in combating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic at a major metropolitan hospital that has been in the forefront of understanding and treating COVID-19. Mount Sinai was among the first to develop an antibody test to identify individuals who have recovered from COVID-19
“As a surgeon whose focus is not primarily infectious disease or critical care, I was thrust into the frontlines this past spring out of need and responsibility,” shared Dr. Divino, who has witnessed the effects of COVID-19 on different communities. Dr. Divino shared both statistical data and personal stories to demonstrate the disparities of the impact of this global pandemic.
She noted that a variety of factors impact COVID-19 health outcomes. “Dense living conditions, underlying health conditions, type of employment in the service industry, being an essential worker, access to health care and racism contribute to the impact of COVID-19.”
Dr. Divino’s talk also focused on how to alleviate COVID-19 health inequities. A key factor in moving forward, Dr. Divino underscored, is “to educate healthcare workers as well as broader society on how inequities and social determinants that drive health disparities come about.” “It is important that a comprehensive response to COVID-19 addresses the root causes of all of these health disparities and we grapple with the history of discrimination and injustice, which continuously threaten lives of different ethnic, Black and Hispanic populations,” Dr. Divino emphasized. “There has to be a redistribution of resources for housing, for testing and for access to care.”
Upper School students were curious about why COVID-19 health disparities are misunderstood. Dr. Divino noted that people often misinterpret statistics. “We tend to look at statistics and the way they are reported and we don’t do a deep dive.” One way to move in a positive direction, Divino shared, is for people and governments to use statistics to explore the reasons behind health inequities.
Dr. Divino took the opportunity to applaud Spence students as a model for service and responding to a call to action at a time of great need. During the severe shortage of PPEs students made and delivered protective shields to Mount Sinai every week, providing “refills for our protective shields ….It made a difference and they’re still being used.”
Dr. Divino encouraged members of the Spence community to continue being forces of positive change. “We all need to approach society and societal needs with a sense of responsibility. ...We should have more compassion and live with intention because every single one of you can make a difference.”
The Anne Sophie Laumont ’99 Lecture was established in 1998 by Sophie’s parents, family and friends to honor her passion for knowledge, pay homage to her courageous spirit, cherish her legacy and extend the spark of her creativity to future generations of Spence students. Each year, the School honors Sophie’s memory with a lecture in one of the following areas: the arts, literature or the sciences.