Coronavirus and Violence: Q&A with Champion Garen Wintemute

Garen Wintemute standing between hospital beds
Center for Violence Prevention Research Champion Garen Wintemute M.D., M.P.H., is the director of the UC Firearm Violence Research Center and a practicing emergency physician.
By Ashley Han

Stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic may protect people from the disease, but another aspect of public safety is at risk. The accompanying social isolation may increase violence, especially for those in abusive relationship who are sheltering in place with their abuser.

Garen Wintemute, M.D., M.P.H., director of the UC Firearm Violence Research Center and champion of the Center for Violence Prevention Research Big Idea, discusses the impact of the pandemic on public safety.

Q: What is the primary message you hope people know about social distancing?

A: As a practicing emergency physician, I want to stress the importance of masking and distancing. In May and through the summer we are likely to see cases and deaths increase, and people need to keep themselves and their families safe. Earlier today I wrote this to my colleagues and my family: The more other people stop wearing masks and distancing, the more important it will be that you and yours continue. Please do!

Q: What is the biggest public safety risk of sheltering at home?

A: There is very solid evidence that bringing a firearm into the home increases the risk of violence in the home, and more such evidence will be published soon. In the current situation, I would add that everyone’s under increased stress, for many reasons. It’s important to get help if the situation gets critical.

Q: What do you hope we learn as a society from this unprecedented time?

A: I hope we learn that we’re stronger when we work together. Divisiveness is even more harmful under adverse conditions. I also hope we learn that ignoring the evidence comes at a high cost. I believe, with great sadness, that we’re about to pay that cost.

Q: What is your outlook on the future of science and medicine?

A: My colleagues and I are in this for the long haul. We believe firmly in the power of engaged science to help make the world a better place, and we believe that science’s contribution is needed now more than ever.

Q: What can people do to protect their own safety?

A: If we’re talking about violence, there’s good advice on all this at our What You Can Do website. The site is designed for health professionals, but the material is accessible for all and is full of actionable information.

UC Davis support services acknowledge that this time brings increased risk. All university support and reporting services are always available to campus and community members. For more information on resources, read here.

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