However more and more, proper wing critics have painted him as a caricature, far totally different from the actor who scrolls the Italian country-side in quest of mouth watering meals. Sifting via Daskalakis’ Instagram feed, they’ve plucked out thirst lure shirtless posts exhibiting off his tattoos — accusing him of being a Satanist.
Daskalakas makes no effort to cover that he’s totally different from the same old authorities employee. Even at present, he shuns the dishevelled blue swimsuit, choosing black skinny denims, grey jacket, a crimson textured tie and his signature black specs.
His tears aren’t as a result of he’s being focused by extremely conservatives. Slightly, they hit him as he explains why he went into public well being, recalling that need he needed to concentrate on HIV/AIDS. It’s a need that finally introduced him to the best seats of political energy and one which, in latest weeks, has put him below intense scrutiny amid criticism of the administration’s monkeypox response.
As a child, he all the time knew he needed to be a physician (“Fisher Value play package,” he muses). But it surely wasn’t till he was an undergraduate at Columbia College that he skilled an epiphany.
He was engaged on an enormous show of the AIDS memorial quilt, he says, and was tasked with flying to San Francisco to deliver again a “roll of carpet that appeared like a physique in a shroud.” On the day the exhibit opened for the completed quilt, he watched as males his age — individuals who ought to have been having fun with their 20s — walked in, coughing and raging with a illness very prone to kill them.
“My job goes to be to by no means let anybody get HIV or if individuals have HIV, guarantee that they don’t get sick and die. It hit me like that,” he recollects with a snap of his fingers.
For the higher a part of 20 years, Daskalakas has been doing work on this area, most not too long ago as director of the Middle for Illness Management and Prevention’s division of HIV/AIDS prevention, a job he took on in the beginning of the administration. Now, his position is to take his experiences and classes discovered from combating communicable ailments and sexually transmitted infections and apply them to the present monkeypox outbreak to assist forestall it from changing into the following everlasting nationwide well being disaster.
He and his boss, Robert Fenton, the longtime Federal Emergency and Administration Company official tapped to be the monkeypox czar, took over because the administration was being dinged for its sluggish response and the lag in offering testing and vaccines.
Daskalakis says when he obtained the decision in regards to the White Home place, he didn’t initially need it.
“Oh no, not once more,” was his first thought, he says. “One other factor that’s going to drag me away from the explanation that I’m doing public well being.”
He had simply wrapped up years of serving to to run the Covid-19 response in New York Metropolis, together with managing a meningitis outbreak there. He was drained and extra importantly, he needed to concentrate on HIV prevention.
Finally, the parallels between the preliminary HIV outbreak and monkeypox — particularly, its disproportionate impression on the queer neighborhood — made him give the job a re-evaluation.
“I can’t actually be upset about being pulled from HIV, as a result of if I crack the code to getting younger black and Latino, [men who have sex with men], homosexual, bisexual or transgender of us or gender range of us ….to get the vaccine,” he says trailing off however implying: If he successfully reaches this neighborhood, it could possibly be a sport changer for HIV prevention, too. He says earlier than he began the job, Biden particularly instructed him he needed to verify the disproportionate impression of Covid-19 on LGBTQ members of shade didn’t repeat with monkeypox.
Daskalakis and Fenton have been credited inside the administration for coordinating authorities efforts throughout the assorted well being companies concerned within the monkeypox response. They have been each among the many most ardent voices pushing the administration to declare a public well being emergency as quickly as doable, one thing Biden did three days after their appointments have been reported.
The criticisms in opposition to the response haven’t stopped, although. Gregg Gonsalves, a world well being activist and epidemiologist at Yale College, praised efforts by Daskalakis and Fenton however questioned “how a lot energy and affect they need to form the course of this outbreak going ahead.”
“It’s not about their private traits, however in regards to the bureaucratic energy they need to make change,” he mentioned.
Daskalakis has used his connections on the CDC, which clashed with the White Home and different companies in the course of the Covid response, to align administration initiatives and observe the illness’s unfold. However his hardest job, senior officers say, has been constructing belief again inside the LGBTQ neighborhood annoyed and scared by the sluggish response.
“Demetre was in a position to play a big position the place he recognized areas of friction, areas the place fast enhancements might be made to the method to construct that belief,” Fenton mentioned in an interview.
Over the past month, monkeypox charges have slowed and vaccine availability has elevated. However so has demand for vaccinations. In line with latest CDC information, greater than 460,000 doses have been given in 34 states and New York Metropolis. That’s 14 % of the three.2 million doses wanted to totally vaccinate the 1.6 million individuals the federal government mentioned are at excessive danger. However regardless of a pilot program of utilizing massive occasions to supply jabs final month, the administration is seeing provide overtake demand.
The administration confronted one thing comparable with Covid-19: simply because the availability was there didn’t imply excessive danger teams might get their fingers on them. However Daskalakis says it’s a sample he has expertise coping with, particularly with communities of shade. In New York, he was well-known for going into bathtub homes and intercourse golf equipment to conduct STI testing and assist educate its patrons.
“He’s not certainly one of these white coat well being bobbleheads … disconnected from [the community] and waving your finger at someone,” says Kenyon Farrow, the managing director of advocacy and organizing at Prep4All in New York. “Individuals really reply to him for that cause.”
However that has additionally turned Daskalakis into a straightforward goal for conservative media, which hit him with a barrage of assaults after his look on the White Home press briefing final week.
They included tweets just like the one alleging that “Joe Biden appointed a Satanist to the White House” due to his pentagram tattoo. One other tweet featured a photograph of him shirtless and asked, “seriously?” Most of the photos have been mined from his Instagram web page, which is chock-full of shirtless footage exhibiting off 30-plus different tattoos. One article that featured quite a few photographs of him mentioned “Dr. Daskalakis’s social media presence reveals a penchant for pentagrams and different Satanic symbolism.”
Daskalakis laughs off the cost. For the report, he confirms he’s not a Satanist. “I want I have been that attention-grabbing.”
As for all his physique artwork and shirtless photographs, he cops to a contact of self-importance. “I spent some huge cash on my tattoos and a variety of time on the gymnasium,” he explains. “I’m exhibiting it off.”
However the response to the photographs has additionally sparked bigger questions: about whether or not press scrutiny compels in any other case certified individuals from getting into public service; however primarily about whether or not authorities bureaucrats would profit from having real-life experiences and extra approachability.
Daskalakis notes the pentagram tattoo on his left pec reads: “I consider that there’s a lightweight even within the darkest place.” He says it represents each his previous as a bullied youngster and dwelling via the AIDS disaster.
He additionally factors out that not one of the articles has ever talked about the massive Jesus tattoo on his abdomen, impressed by the Greek Orthodox church he grew up attending in Washington, D.C.
He says the assaults aren’t a distraction. However that appears laborious to consider. He has since made his Instagram web page non-public.
Not like most public well being officers, Daskalakis sees his thirst traps as part of his work, not separate from it. A photograph of him ripping off his leather jacket, exposing his bare chest, was featured in a “Bare it All” ad campaign for the New York Metropolis Well being Division whereas he was the deputy commissioner of town’s division of illness management. He mentioned such photos assist give him a degree of belief with the individuals he’s attempting to achieve that different docs can’t replicate.
“I can’t give a fuck as a result of in any other case I’d be rocking forwards and backwards and [someone] could be stroking my non-existent hair,” he says.
Whereas he was vetted for his present position, the White Home reviewed Daskalakis’ social media presence, an official with data of the method mentioned. But it surely didn’t immediate any second guessing within the West Wing, the official mentioned. If something, Daskalakis’ standing as a proudly out homosexual man was seen as a bonus within the administration’s effort to construct credibility with the LGBTQ neighborhood.
Whereas Daskalakis admits to being “pathologically in an excellent temper,” his disposition darkens when he assesses parts of the general public response to monkeypox. Like with HIV, he sees stigma in opposition to the queer neighborhood on the rise.
He says his thoughts usually returns to the AIDS quilt, together with the household of Andy Grunebaum, a person who died from AIDS-related problems. Grunebaum’s household made a big donation in his title to New York College, the place Daskalakis was an assistant professor on the time.
The one requirement was that the grant’s beneficiary needed to work to struggle AIDS. Daskalakis used among the cash to get his grasp’s in public well being.
“A household, a mom you, saying that ‘We’ll give this to you, however your job is to not let individuals undergo and die.’ That’s precisely what I signed up for,” Daskalakis says.