NEWS | April 8, 2020

California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris, a UC Davis School of Medicine alumna, helps guide state through pandemic traumas [video]

The 2001 graduate provides tips on how to reduce stress due to effects of coronavirus


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SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom’s daily news conference on coronavirus Tuesday featured the expertise of a participant familiar to UC Davis School of Medicine: California Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris.

The 2001 graduate is a nationally known expert on the health consequences of toxic childhood stress.

She spoke at the news conference to urge Californians to recognize this is a stressful time. She encouraged them to take care of their emotional health.

“The actions we’re all taking to slow the spread of coronavirus – physical distancing, handwashing, wearing masks and proper disinfecting – are critically necessary and remain the top priority,” Burke Harris said. “But while we keep our physical distance, our social supports to maintain emotional and spiritual connection are more important than ever for our physical and mental health.”

The School of Medicine alumna is a pediatrician. She is a passionate advocate of raising awareness about Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. The more ACEs a child has gone through, such as observing violence or being raised by a parent who abuses alcohol, the more likely that individual will suffer health risks later in life.

Burke Harris was appointed by Newsom in January 2019 to serve as the state’s first surgeon general.


Nadine Burke Harris, a 2001 graduate of the UC Davis School of Medicine, is a top advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom on coronavirus mental health issues.

Like many other UC Davis School of Medicine alumni, Burke Harris has dedicated her career to closing the gap in health disparities.

At the news conference Tuesday, Newsom was asked by a reporter if he will release a demographic breakdown to show the number of COVID-19 cases across different races and ethnicities. Early reports have shown that African Americans in some metropolitan areas in the U.S. are getting infected at higher rates than other groups.

Newsom said he is planning to produce a breakdown that shows race, ethnicity and geographic locations of people who have been hospitalized, are in intensive care units, and who have died. He also pledged to release a demographic breakdown of people being tested for the virus.

In speaking about the importance of looking at racial disparities in health care, Newsom called Burke Harris to the podium while announcing, “This has been, quite literally, the cause of her life.”

Burke Harris stated that historically, there has been “medical mistreatment” of African Americans. She emphasized the importance of “trusted messengers” to communicate truthful messages.

“There was unfortunately a terrible rumor circulating that for some reasons, African Americans don’t get coronavirus,” she said. “That rumor is completely false and it’s really important for all of us to get out there and debunk that rumor.”

At another point, Newsom called Burke Harris to the podium to explain why the health effects of coronavirus go beyond infection.

“It is important to recognize that stress related to the pandemic that many are feeling right now, compounded by the economic distress due to lost wages, employment and financial assets,  plus school closures and sustained physical distancing,” she said, “can trigger the biological stress response which also has an impact on our health and well-being.”

People who experience too much stress, she said, can be associated with changes in sleep patterns, appetite, mood changes, risk of substance abuse and family violence. In addition, physical symptoms can include headaches, stomach pain, increased blood pressure and asthma.

“It’s important to know that these changes aren’t just in your head,” she said.

The good news, Burke Harris announced, is that Californians can do simple things to protect their health:

  • Maintain safe, stable and nurturing relationships
  • Eat a healthful diet
  • Exercise on a regular basis
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Stay connected to social support
  • Seek mental health care

More information on resources mentioned by Burke Harris can be found here.