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Georgia Tech asked again to allow professor access to fight COVID-19

March 16, 2020 - Atlanta -  Georgia Tech professor Eva Lee is one of the country's most renowned mathematics modeling experts and has helped cities, states and countries deal with natural disasters, terrorist attacks and infectious diseases.  Lee is working for national and state agencies to try and contain the coronavirus.   Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
March 16, 2020 - Atlanta - Georgia Tech professor Eva Lee is one of the country's most renowned mathematics modeling experts and has helped cities, states and countries deal with natural disasters, terrorist attacks and infectious diseases. Lee is working for national and state agencies to try and contain the coronavirus. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

A lawyer for acclaimed Georgia Tech professor Eva Lee on Tuesday renewed his request that Lee be allowed access to her 200 computers at the school to help national, state and local governments combat the coronavirus.

The request was made amid revelations that Lee has been working with an elite group of government and academic infectious disease and medical experts responding to COVID-19. They were linked together in an email chain called “The Red Dawn String,” which was created to share thoughts and information, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Lee has been banished from Georgia Tech's campus and unable to access her mathematical modeling computers since last April when National Science Foundation agents found she had falsified a membership certificate behind a $40,000 grant. In December, Lee pleaded guilty in federal court to making false statements. She is to be sentenced May 21.

Tech has continued to refuse Lee access even though two top officials from the Department of Homeland Security asked that her access be restored. The most recent request was made last month by Duane Caneva, the agency's chief medical officer.

“She has been playing a vital role in our whole-of-nation response to the current COVID-19 response,” Caneva wrote. “(She) is a well-recognized expert and advocate for computational sciences in biodefense and public health. I urge Georgia Tech to consider restoring access to her computational resources at this critical time.”

Caneva’s plea was disclosed in the email sent to the school by Buddy Parker, Lee’s attorney.

One Feb. 23 Red Dawn email, as disclosed by the Times, underscores the government’s reliance on Lee.

It was sent by Dr. Robert Kadlec, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services response team and a key White House advisor. He exchanges comments with Lee about a recent study that confirmed a 20-year-old woman had infected five relatives after leaving Wuhan, China, even though she had no symptoms of the disease.

“Eva, is this true?!” Kadlec asked. “If so we have a huge (hole) on our screening and quarantine effort.”

On March 2, Lee wrote, “We need actions, actions, actions and more actions. We are going to have pockets of epicenters across this country. Our policy leaders need to act now. Please make it happen!”

When President Donald Trump announced European travel restrictions in a national address on March 11, Lee was among a number of Red Dawn members frustrated the president did not go far enough.

“I was hoping he would mention about schools, government and private sector telework, community gatherings, things that really need everyone to actively engage in,” she wrote. “And also extra resources for health care providers. We must protect them because they are invaluable resources and we don’t have enough.”

At that time, Lee was exchanging messages with Tom Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser, and Dr. James Lawler, an infectious disease expert at the University of Nebraska who served in the White House under former President George W. Bush.

In a statement issued March 27, Georgia Tech said it needed “a request, in writing, from a senior official overseeing the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak that formally requests her involvement.”

The school noted it had reached out to Caneva, but he said Lee had not been “formally engaged by him” and he could not identify a point of contact in central command that Georgia Tech could reach out to.

In his renewed request, Parker noted that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, was included in the Red Dawn email chain. The emails also show that Caneva is a senior U.S. official overseeing the government's response, Parker said.

Lee’s computer modeling program RealOpt, which she has made available for free to agencies across the country, is needed to use by the states for testing, as well as the eventual distribution of vaccines, Parker wrote. “Dr. Lee needs access to the 200 computers housed at Georgia Tech which are currently being unused, as thousands die from COVID-19.”

In a statement issued Tuesday, Georgia Tech said, “We have received and are reviewing the communication from Dr. Lee’s attorney.”