If a Felon Had Key Info That Could Aid the Fight Against Coronavirus, Should We Forgive Her?

It’s an interesting question, with long reaching implications into too many industries and areas to comfortably count. But brass tacks, people are dying right now due to the coronavirus. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic. If there is a woman who has something, anything, that could make a substantive difference in our fight against Covid-19, should we put aside the fact that she’s a felon, and let her get back to work?

I’m talking about Eva Lee, director of the Center for Operations Research in Medicine and Health Care at the Georgia Institute of Technology. In January, she said she could already see data indicating that a global disaster was coming. So, she began to work with her colleagues around the country, and according to an article published this week in Fast Company, her early assessments on the contagion’s origins, as well as its virulence and global trajectory, have all proven “remarkably accurate.”

Lee has also worked informally on a virtual team of academics and federal and state officials, to assess risks and help create strategies to slow the coronavirus outbreak. She has developed model interventions and strategies for county and city officials across the country to combat the virus.

Apparently, she could do even more, but she’s barred from her Georgia Tech lab, with its bank of 200 computers. In December 2019, she was charged with two felonies—one for falsifying information on an annual certification for a $40,000 National Science Foundation grant, and the other for lying to a federal agent investigating the falsified information.

Lee pleaded guilty to both and is waiting a judge’s verdict on her case on May 21st. So, she’s been working from home on her laptop—a fact that has some of her colleagues in the epidemiological community on fire.

They feel because she could so useful to the fight against coronavirus she should be allowed back into her lab, but Georgia Tech says no. Unless there’s “written request for her participation” from a US government official, she stays out.

I get that, logically. At the end of the day, crime is crime. Those who commit them should be punished according to the law. But when lives are at stake, should exceptions be made? If so, how do we make them? Who is the judge when the case itself is almost completely subjective?

Setting aside her potential contribution – which seems to be substantial – if she is allowed to access her lab, what are the implications there for other types of felons? Further, what does this scenario say about the job market’s stance on criminal records in general? Does this scenario confirm that things are too black and white – no pun intended – or is the law the law, no exceptions allowed?

It’s not a quick and easy answer, for sure. There’s a lot to this. The situation screams for some further consideration – and fast – at the very least. But my gut says, if she’s that useful? Let her back into her lab.

It’s not like she can reasonably flee or dodge her punishment. She could be supervised in the lab, her every move monitored and recorded, no? There don’t seem to be any red flags that would suggest she’s itching to get back into her lab to conduct mischief. She seems to genuinely want to help save lives. Doesn’t that call for an exception?

What do you think? Should felon Eva Lee, she who has important, potentially life-saving information or the know how to generate it – and a big heart – get a pass so she can do her part to help curtail Covid-19?

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