Berkeley Public Health Associate Professor Maya Petersen, MD, PhD, received a huge surprise from San Francisco Mayor London Breed June 18, 2021, during a UCSF Virtual Town Hall.
From now on, June 18, 2021, will be known as Maya Petersen Day in the City by the Bay.
During what began as a run-of-the-mill Zoom presentation, Petersen presented the mathematical modeling work she developed starting in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. “In March 2020, we built an early version of a mathematical model to take data and make predictions about cases and hospitalizations,” she said. “Over time the models involved and the data got better.”
That modeling work was instrumental in decision-making at the city and regional level and was used to build consensus among Bay Area counties, including the early decision to “shelter in place” in March 2020, something that led to thousands of lives being saved. As understanding of COVID-19 improved, Petersen and her partners at UCSF, particularly Dr. Diane Havlir, provided regular data-driven input on testing and re-opening strategies, vaccination targets, and other public health decisions to the City and County of San Francisco.
After Petersen completed her presentation, Mayor Breed made a surprise appearance.
“I want to commend and extend our deep appreciation to Dr. Petersen for her leadership in modeling COVID-19 throughout the pandemic,” Breed said. “Those modeling graphs were extremely helpful, especially when we were making extremely difficult decisions about this virus. You are truly an unsung hero of the pandemic.”
“On behalf of the City and County of San Francisco,” she continued. “I want to do something special…today will be known as Maya Petersen Day in the City and County of San Francisco.”
The emotion on Petersen’s part was palpable after Mayor Breed spoke. “It was one of the most meaningful moments of my professional career,” Petersen said. “I was completely surprised when first Dr. Colfax, and then Mayor Breed appeared unexpectedly at what I expected to be a routine UCSF Town Hall. I was overcome with emotion when Mayor Breed presented the award. It has been an incredible honor to work with so many true public health heroes—in academics, the government, the department of public health, and the community—to support the COVID-19 response over the past months. This award is a testament to the tireless work, commitment, and collective impact of these amazing people.”