The world has changed dramatically since the last time we gathered together in the Nevada desert. Vigilantly guarding the health and safety of our event now, like never before, will directly affect the well-being of every member of our global community (as well as those we may come into contact with before and after the event) — participants, artists, staff, volunteers, founders, and visitors alike. COVID-19 is a vicious pathogen that cuts across every demographic, regardless of age, gender, orientation, race, income level, nationality, or faith.
As of this writing, COVID-19 has infected over 95,000,000 people globally (24,000,000 in the U.S. alone) according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center, and killed over 2,000,000 people worldwide (more than 400,000 in the U.S.). This pandemic is — to use a word that became all-too-familiar to us in 2020 — unprecedented.
So, how do we proceed?
Simply put: together, and with great care. We have gathered the best experts in science, medicine, and public health policy and followed their advice. We created a COVID-19 Task Force composed of experts in epidemiology, pre-hospital care and transport, hospital care and treatment, and public health. As is typical of our amazing community, members of this COVID-19 Task Force are also Burners and members of our Emergency Services Department (ESD), so they already know all about us, our event, and our culture.
The mission of this Task Force is to review the latest science, medicine, and policy to make the best and safest recommendations to Burning Man Project about building Black Rock City in 2021 and beyond. It’s a mighty task, for sure, and this team is up to the challenge.
Listed below are the members of our COVID-19 Task Force, along with their educational credentials, professional background, and on-playa experience.
Meet the Task Force
Kate Gonnella (MSN, RN) is the Chief of Emergency Services for Burning Man, overseeing the medical, fire, communications, and mental health branch services on playa. Kate works closely with Burning Man department leaders and our government partners in Nevada to ensure all emergency operations are compliant with state, federal, and best-practices standards. She brings to her role more than 30 years of experience in emergency medicine, informatics, and management.
Ron Vidal is a Partner at Blackrock 3 Partners Inc., a global Incident Management consulting firm, as well as the co-author of 'Incident Management for Operations.' At Black Rock City, Ron started with ESD in 2008, and has served as Incident Commander for 14 Burns, including the Man, Temple, and 10 artist burns. Currently, Ron works for the Chief-Fire Branch as the Liaison to Art and has participated in the design and implementation of the 2020 Event Operations Summit Tactical Decision Game (TDG) on COVID-19. Ron has worked on 27 art pieces as a fabricator and rigger and is a member of the Fire Arts Safety Team (FAST). Ron will be Project Manager of the COVID-19 Task Force, expanding his role of Project Manager from Burn Night: Live From Home, a 24-hour live streaming event presented during the Burning Man 2020 Multiverse.
Margy Morris (MSN, RN, CFRN) was recently hired as Medical Chief of ESD after serving in the role of Volunteer Coordinator and Medical Duty Chief on playa for four years, and has been with ESD a total of eight years. Her medical experience includes working as an ARNP, many years as an ICU nurse, and the last five years in critical care transport (helicopters, airplanes, and ambulances). Additionally, she's volunteered countless hours in a variety of settings, including AIDS hospice, blood banks, crisis nursery, needle exchange, and five medical mission trips to Haiti.
Dr. Toby O. Salz (MD) is a Board Certified Emergency physician with expertise in general emergency medicine, travel, expedition, and disaster medicine. He is a graduate of Chicago Medical School and the Alameda County Medical Center, Highland General Hospital emergency medicine residency program affiliated with the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. He has worked in a diverse range of challenging environments such as Chiapas, Mexico, Ecuador, Black Rock City, the U.A.E.'s regional Rashid Trauma Center located in Dubai, and he served as the Medical Director of the Emergency Department and ICU of Hôpital de L'Universite D'Etat D'Haïti during two medical missions to post-earthquake Haiti. Dr. Salz currently practices emergency medicine in Northern California.
Katie Capano (MSN, RN) is a midwife and nurse practitioner specializing in primary care in low-resource settings. Over the past 16 years, Katie has worked for Doctors Without Borders, Renown Medical Group, Rutgers University, the Santa Rosa Birth Center, and is currently a member of the clinical faculty for Johns Hopkins Medicine. Currently, Katie is pursuing a dual degree (DNP/MPH) with Johns Hopkins schools of Public Health & Nursing while also working as a full-scope bilingual midwife in inner-city Baltimore. On Playa, Katie has volunteered with Burning Man Emergency Services for six years during Burn week, pre & post event, as a volunteer coordinator, and most recently as a member of the Burning Man COVID-19 Task Force.
Dr. Jovia Nierenberg (PhD, MPH) is an epidemiologist at the University of California San Francisco. She received her Master's Degree and PhD in Epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Jovia is also a contributing member of the COVID-19 Dispersed Volunteer Research Network, a cross-disciplinary network of over 100 researchers from dozens of universities.
Dr. Yasin M. Choudry (MD) is a Board Certified Psychiatrist with expertise in clinical psychiatry and recovery from addictions and emotional trauma. He completed his psychiatry residency at the Wayne State University in Michigan, and currently works at an adolescent inpatient unit in Idaho Falls. On playa, Yasin has volunteered with the Crisis Intervention Team for three years.