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First U.S.-based journalist to cover the outbreak wins coveted recognition; she quickly emerged as a leading authority on the virus

Boston, MA (February 24, 2021)STAT, the most influential health, science, and medicine publication, today announced that veteran infectious disease and global health reporter Helen Branswell will receive a George Polk Award for Public Service for “for relentlessly covering all aspects of the pandemic through works dating back as early as Dec. 31, 2019 that became required reading for medical experts.” This is only the fourth time that the Polk Award for Public Service has been awarded. 

“Reporting on the Covid-19 pandemic has been the most important work of my career and I’m deeply humbled and honored to receive the George Polk Award for Public Service,” said Helen Branswell, veteran public health reporter. “I couldn’t have tackled this enormous reporting challenge without the support of the entire STAT team, who have been dogged in their efforts to bring pandemic coverage to the public. I am especially thankful for my editor Jason Ukman, executive editor Rick Berke, who chose to keep our coverage in front of a paywall, my colleague Drew Joseph, who has been closely tracking the pandemic with me, and the late, inimitable Sharon Begley.”

On Jan. 4, 2020, Branswell became the first journalist in the U.S. to publish a detailed report on  Covid-19. In the 14 months since, she has written almost exclusively about the pandemic and has been cited as a leading authority on the pandemic and Covid-19 information. Branswell has brought her transformative journalism to millions in hundreds of stories, thousands of informative social media postings, and several live Q&A sessions, events, and interviews with major scientific leaders, including Dr. Anthony Fauci.

STAT was very early in seizing on the coronavirus as a potentially catastrophic global health threat, and throughout the year consistently produced vital, prescient journalism,’’ said Rick Berke, STAT’s co-founder and executive editor. “That would not have happened without Helen’s now legendary tweets, early warnings, followed day after day, month after month, by meticulous and authoritative reporting. We are deeply proud of Helen’s work, and grateful that she moved here from Toronto as a pioneer in launching STAT five years ago to bring her vital reporting to our readers.”

Branswell recognized the dangerous potential of the virus early-on when, on Dec. 31, 2019, she saw an alert about four unexplained pneumonia cases in China. She was living in Toronto in 2003 when the full-fledged SARS outbreak occurred and from that experience, Branswell knew that this new virus had the potential to cause incredible damage if allowed to establish itself.

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