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"These are the darkest days of the pandemic," said Our Lady of the Lake's Dr. Catherine O'Neal, right, as Gov. John Bel Edwards, left, listens in 2021.

As a professor at LSU Health in New Orleans and medical director of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, Dr. Catherine O’Neal could hardly have ascended higher in the esteem of her state than during her role as a compassionate truth-teller during the coronavirus pandemic.

But in sports-crazy cities and our similarly obsessed state, it’s still an usually high honor to be named chief medical adviser to the Southeastern Conference.

O'Neal not only advised the government and people of Louisiana during the worst of COVID, but also the medical advisory task force for the SEC. Commissioner Greg Sankey said that “throughout that process (she) gained the trust and respect of campus leaders.”

That she did back home as well. During the worst COVID-19 surges, O'Neal was a prominent voice urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks and take other precautions. In news conferences hosted by Gov. John Bel Edwards and in public service videos that spread widely on social media, she gave blunt and impassioned descriptions of how the virus was overwhelming hospital staff.

"Our community and health care team have both been through so much over the last two years," O'Neal said.

They have, but Catherine O’Neal helped them through. We congratulate her on her new role.