"People need to be informed, but not afraid"

Georges Benjamin and reporter on PBS News Hour

To help counteract the "infodemic" of misinformation and rumors, APHA has been giving expert commentary and background during the COVID-19 pandemic. A few highlights:

Trump Still Insists High COVID-19 Cases Down to More Testing. He's Wrong (Newsweek, July 10)
The COVID Tracking Project by The Atlantic showed the test positivity rates on Thursday in the recently hard-hit South and West were 13 and 9.3 percent, respectively. The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that the positivity rate was almost 27 percent in Arizona, 19 percent in Florida and 17 percent in South Carolina.

The goal is to keep this figure below 5 percent to ensure enough testing is being carried out so clusters of infected people aren't missed, Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, told Newsweek.

Many People Avoided Hospitals During the Pandemic. The Effect Was Dire. (Consumer Reports, July 10)
Lower-income groups and communities of color already suffer more from chronic diseases, many of which require exactly the sort of constant care and monitoring that has been interrupted by the ongoing pandemic. This disparity can be largely explained by the racism that causes lifelong stress and deprives certain communities access to green spaces, healthy foods, affordable healthcare, and more, according to Camara Phyllis Jones, M.D., Ph.D., an epidemiologist who is the past president of the American Public Health Association and currently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Systemic racism is a public health issue. Community health workers are proven to help (Philadelphia Inquirer, July 8)
“We have long known racism as a key driver of health,” said Regina Davis Moss, associate executive director of public health policy and practice for the American Public Health Association. “To achieve health equity, you have to address racism as a public health crisis.”

Pence, Azar reassure governors Trump won't end virus emergency declaration (Politico, July 7)
But some groups said their worries wouldn’t be allayed until the declaration is signed, citing the Trump administration’s disjointed response to the pandemic.

“This has not been a group that has acted in an organized, coordinated, or rational way since they walked in the door, so without advocates and experts pushing them to do some of the right things each and every step along the way,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

African Americans die more frequently from COVID-19, but poverty isn't why (Atlanta Daily Word, July 7)

While the MIT professors weren’t able to pinpoint one direct cause for the higher death rates, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, pointed to an inability to retreat during the pandemic, a high propensity for chronic diseases among African Americans and poverty as possible causes. He also said misinformation during the early days of the pandemic and a lack of proper testing put black lives at risk.

Lackluster testing in the early days of the pandemic hurt the medical community’s ability to find and quarantine people to slow the spread of Covid-19. Even if a community had a testing site, it was often not easily accessible, said Benjamin

Some scientists believe coronavirus spreads through air much more readily than previous thought (Salon, July 6)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told Salon that he would need to read the scientists' letter to be able to directly comment on their conclusions. He added, however, that "it is well understood that aerosolization as a mode of transmission. The big unknown is how much infection does it cause, and what can other measures like managing airflow differently, UV light exposure, etc. reduce it over wearing a mask, handwashing and physical distancing."

"I prefer a measured, evidence-based approach to answering this question," Benjamin explained. "Right now we know the triad of masks, handwashing & physical distancing works to reduce risk in the face of large and fine (aerosolization) large respiratory spread. Should there be better evidence for these additional interventions from good peer-reviewed studies then we should include them on top of what we are already doing."

Protest, rally or eating out — Where is riskier?  (BBC, July 2)
Cases of the virus are spiking across the country and the US top disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci has warned that there could be 100,000 cases a day if the appropriate actions aren't taken.

Dr Georges Benjamin, the Executive Director at the American Public Health Association, breaks down the risks.

Republicans Signal More Aid for Testing (Inside Higher Ed, June 30)
The CDC, though, said testing everyone is not recommended because it’s unknown if comprehensive testing is more effective than implementing other measures, such as social distancing and wearing masks.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, agreed with the CDC.

The tests will identify some who have the virus, he said. "The problem is it's like finding a needle in a haystack." Those who test negative could also get the virus the next day, said Benjamin.

A new coronavirus mutation affects the spike protein that invades human cells (Salon, June 30)
Benjamin observed that there is no evidence that the mutation will impact efforts to develop a vaccine, but added that "we always have to watch for the big genetic change which may mean we need a new or more effective vaccine. We get a flu shot every year because of relatively small changes in the Influenza virus. Enough change on the SARS-2 virus may mean we have to get a new shot every year. Of course that assumes we have a safe and effective vaccine to begin with."

With No Mask Rules, TSA Balances Security With Virus Risk (Bloomberg Businessweek, June 29)
The coronavirus is more often transmitted between people in close physical proximity via respiratory droplets than through shared surfaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although both can lead to infection. “Physical distancing is incredibly important for this specific virus,” says Surili Sutaria Patel of the American Public Health Association.

Coronavirus opens door to company surveillance of workers (Politico, June 26)
A state-by-state approach to contact tracing — as opposed to one national system — already leaves gaps in efforts to trace and isolate people who have been exposed to the virus.

Contract tracing in your office doesn't do you any good when Johnny goes home and exposes the rest of the family," said Georges Benjamin, who heads the American Public Health Association.

Why Public Health Officials Are Quitting During a Pandemic (Governing, June 24)
“We run the risk of losing some of our best, most well-qualified people right when we need them the most,” says Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Public Health Leadership and Policy: Lessons from Crisis (U.S. News & World Report webinar, June 24)
As the country reopens, how are officials balancing health priorities with policy and economic concerns? What lessons can be learned from responses at the local, state and national levels that might mitigate harm in the future? How can we address systemic racism and the serious health inequities that result?

Georges Benjamin: "This has been the big pandemic that those of us who've been in public health have been talking about, frankly, all of our professional lives. And we've been planning for it. And the real tragedy here is that for a variety of reasons we ought to talk about more in depth, our leadership has failed us. Our plans have failed us. Our systems have failed us."

Coronavirus Coverage and the Silencing of Female Expertise (Undark Magazine, June 22)
“Right now, in Covid, we know for a fact that women are submitting fewer papers, they’re submitting fewer grants, and there are real downstream effects for that,” said Lisa Carlson, an instructor at the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and president of the American Public Health Association. If you aren’t getting recognized, funded, and published, she said, you’re not going to succeed as an academic scientist.

Social Distancing, Racism, and Protecting People in a Pandemic Without Police (American Prospect, June 21)
Instead of officers arresting people who violate social-distancing policies, Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, suggests implementing a number of alternative enforcement methods that run less of a risk of creating mistrust and crowding already virus-prone jails. Along with public-education campaigns, Benjamin suggests employing signs and other visual reminders and encouraging people to hold each other accountable.

Poll: Americans not buying White House spin on coronavirus (Associated Press, June 18)
The poll found that only 23% of adults rated the national response as excellent or very good, while an additional 20% rated it as good.

“We always assumed that we have the best — how could the U.S. not have enough masks, and gloves, and gowns?” asked Dr. Georges Benjamin, head of the nonprofit American Public Health Association.

“The answer is that we have always made the assumption we had all that stuff without properly planning,” added Benjamin, who reviewed the results of the poll.

Quarantine fatigue: Governors reject new lockdowns as virus cases spike (Politico, June 11)
“We always knew that once we returned back to the community, we had to do it carefully and that there would have to be a pause when we saw increases,” said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. “That should always have been understood.” 

Experts call for White House to craft a plan for equal access to COVID-19 vaccine (National Journal, June 9)
“They are going to have to make sure we have a sound distribution plan to make sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes we did with testing,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association...

Benjamin said Congress should press the administration for a vaccine strategy, and that state and local public health should be consulted.

Protests in the Pandemic (PBS News Hour, June 8)
How should the risk of protesting be weighed against the public health concerns over the lives and living conditions of black Americans?

Georges Benjamin: "The American Public Health Association has been a strong proponent of human rights, and we would not be who we were if we did not believe in the social justice movement that we're seeing.

"It is a risk But at the end of the day, if we don't take this risk right now, when are we going to do it?"

People are gargling bleach, misusing disinfectants. Are you using these products safely? (MSN, June 8)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, agreed. Chances are, if you do bring COVID-19 into your home, it’s because someone got infected with it outside, he said...

Outside the human body, viruses tend to weaken or die easily. “The virus is a piece of genetic material that is surrounded by kind of a fatty membrane,” Dr. Benjamin said. “And that's important because it means that if you just disrupt the fatty membrane and expose the genetic material, that you in effect can destroy its ability to infect you.”

Coronavirus kills black people at twice the rate as white people: Here's what we can do about it (Los Angeles Times, June 6)

Dr. Georges Benjamin knew that when the coronavirus landed on U.S. shores, it was going to be especially bad for black Americans.

Health experts fear long-term damage to CDC's credibility (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 5)
“I’m worried about the CDC, for sure,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, a national organization of health professionals that lobbies at the federal level. “It’s like anybody else who’s been stifled. People are not quite sure what they can and cannot do, but I hope that will go away over time, and when I say over time, I mean quickly.”

Protesting during the coronavirus pandemic: Tips for staying safe, according to experts (Fox News, June 5)
If you are feeling sick at all, "the most important thing is don't go," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. "If you have any symptomatology at all, because of COVID, don't go."

Some Cities are Shutting Down Coronavirus Testing During the Protests (BuzzFeed News, June 5)
People protesting “do have a higher risk” of infection, Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told BuzzFeed News, although he added exactly how much higher is impossible to quantify at this point. “The concurrence of two public health emergencies — police violence and this outbreak — is really challenging,” Benjamin said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says whether schools reopen in the fall is 'complicated,' will depend on the region (CNBC, June 3)

On Thursday, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions during a hearing that college campuses across the country will see new coronavirus cases whenever they do reopen, regardless of what they do to prevent an outbreak.

Benjamin said that if a school is unable to conduct adequate testing, it “can’t function at all.”

Black Americans Have Been Dying Prematurely Long Before COVID, But Pandemic Highlights Disparities (Kaiser Health News Online, June 3)
“At the end of the day, racism is the original sin here,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Racism attacks people’s physical and mental health,” he said. It’s “an ongoing public health crisis that needs our attention now.”

Cause of death: COVID-19, police violence or racism? (Los Angeles Times, June 3)
And in the midst of a pandemic, Benjamin and others fear that as crowds fill the streets to protest yet another police killing of an unarmed black man, people of color will again bear the disproportionate brunt of renewed infections.

Protests may add COVID-19 cases and compound racial disparities (Roll Call, June 2)
“There’s no doubt that everyone is concerned about people mingling. We’ve been hoping for a safe summer, that people would return back into the community in a manner that encouraged physical distancing, wearing a mask and washing hands,” said American Public Health Association Executive Director Georges Benjamin. “If you could plan an event to accelerate the risks of catching COVID-19, this would be it.”

Benjamin also highlighted the health impact of the issues that brought protesters into the streets. 

NBC logo, Coming Up Facts Over Fear

MORE NEWS COVERAGE (May 2020)

COVID-19 Hits Blacks Hardest Due to 'Legacy of Inequality' (Washington Informer, May 29)
Because of COVID-19’s disproportionate effect on minority communities, it’s especially important that people of color “develop trust with a health care provider” who also treats them well, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Medical experts say there will be a second wave of coronavirus in San Antonio, but when? (KSAT, May 28)
Dr. Benjamin said now is the time communities should be planning.

“Look at reestablishing their supply lines, thinking about what they need if they had another wave for personal protective gear. Again, thinking about how they are going to get ventilators,” Dr. Benjamin said

Do Masks Prevent COVID-19? (Ozarks Tonight, May 25)
Georges Benjamin: "Absolutely, the mask is protective...It's about dramatically reducing the risk."

Trump Tweets and Golfs, but  Makes No Mention of Virus's Toll (New York Times, May 24)
The American Public Health Association said the 100,000 milestone was a time to reinforce efforts to curb the virus, not abandon them.

“This is both a tragedy and a call to action,” it said in a statement. “Infection rates are slowing overall in the U.S., but with 1.6 million cases across the nation in the past four months, the outbreak is far from over. New hot spots are showing up daily, and rates remain steady in at least 25 states.”

And even that grim total barely begins to scratch the surface of the pain and suffering endured by a country under siege by the worst public health crisis combined with the worst economic crisis in decades.

POLITICO-Harvard poll: Stark partisan divide on reopening country (Politico, May 22)
But two months into a startling economic collapse that’s left about 39 million Americans filing for unemployment, many of those hit hardest by closures are ready to begin recovery. Six in 10 owners or managers of small- or medium-sized businesses said nonessential businesses should reopen. Also in agreement were 52 percent of households where someone lost a job or went on forced unpaid leave, compared to 41 percent of those who haven’t lost income.

“They're basically saying they think the economic risk outweighs the health risk,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “I don't think they're being callous about the health risk. I think they're making a judgment around how they value risk."

Doctors push Trump to quickly reopen country in letter organized by conservatives (The Hill, May 21)
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said he doesn't think anyone would argue in favor of an indefinite shutdown, but there's a difference between reopening safely based on science, and reopening quickly without science.

For example, he said if someone is promoting the wide use of hydroxychloroquine, "I would question the veracity of a lot of other things" they said, because it is not "steeped in science."

How to Recreate Responsibly in the Outdoors (REI Co-Op Journal, May 21)
Lisa Carlson, president of the American Public Health Association and an administrator with the Emory School of Medicine, says it’s important that people use nature as a respite during these times.

“Our outdoor spaces are sacred spaces, and they’re also public health opportunities. Trees and nature are really important for good health,” she says. “We need to be more intentional about how we’re outside. But it doesn’t mean we can’t figure out how to make it work.”

Dr. Georges Benjamin on States Reopening and Potential Risks (CSPAN Washington Journal, May 20)
"My biggest concern is that people will not continue to practice good public health practices that we've been doing for the last two months. That means covering up your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, wearing a mask, physically distancing yourself from one another, washing your hands, those kinds of things that are just common sense measures that we do. And we have a tendency to forget those kinds of things." 

Trump sidelines CDC in push to reopen the US economy (Al Jazeera, May 20)
For public health officials nationwide, the secondary role of CDC scientists in the White House's policy decisions is visible and problematic, said Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association in Washington, DC.

"Right now, the White House is controlling the message, controlling who says it," Benjamin told Al Jazeera..."They rolled out their more complete guidance last night in the middle of the night when nobody could see it," Benjamin said.

Scientists Studying the Coronavirus Say Some States are Censoring Them (BuzzFeed News, May 20)
“Anything short of full transparency does not serve the public good,” American Public Health Association President Lisa Carlson told BuzzFeed News. “People make mistakes; people dispute data. What’s important is to get to, and to maintain, accurate, timely, and complete data — and transparency.”

9 ways COVID-19 may forever upend the U.S. health care industry (Stat News, May 19)
Georges Benjamin, executive director for the American Public Health Association: “We have to recognize that inequities still exist. Why do we think it’s going to be any different when we get a vaccine or antiviral agent? We need a plan now to make sure that those existing disparities are not exacerbated by inadequate access to treatment or access to vaccines. We have to pay attention to that now, and make sure we plan.”

Businesses, Schools Draw on CDC's Guidance to Reopen (NPR, May 18)
ALLISON AUBREY: Well, you know, public health experts and physicians I've spoken to say the guidance from the CDC calling on employers to protect high-risk individuals, it's a good idea, but they ask where is the leadership here? Where are the resources to see this through? Where's the sick pay for essential workers or access to easy testing? Benjamin points out that minorities, often those hit hardest by COVID, hold many of the service sector jobs.

GEORGES BENJAMIN: Bus drivers, security guards, grocery clerks, people who pick up our garbage — we need to prioritize that from a systematic perspective. And we really have not yet done that. And I think the guidance put out so far is too weak, too shallow. And this has been a failure of federal leadership for sure.

Minnesota officials cautious after first week with fewer COVID-19 deaths (Star-Tribune, May 16)
But [APHA Executive Director Georges] Benjamin said he was concerned by the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state, adding that many states are opening up even though they haven’t shown a sustained decline in cases.

“At least right now, there’s probably rationale for doing some very careful things,” Benjamin said Saturday. “I still think, in total, it’s too early to reopen.”

Connecting with nature during COVID-19 (AccuWeather.com, May 15)
APHA President Lisa Carlson: "We really can't separate physical and mental health. They are one and the same. So the things we do that are good for our physical health are also good for our mental health. And vice versa."

Here's how that rumor that smokers can't get COVID-19 got started (Salon, May 13)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, echoed Haseltine's and Medford's observations.

"People should not think that smoking is going to help them with their disease," Benjamin explained. "We know that that is not the way the pathology of the disease works. When you smoke, you injure the lining of your airway and your lungs, and you may actually make yourself more susceptible to the virus. Now it may very well be that nicotine has some impact on the virus, but it's not going to be outweighed by the injury that you have by smoking."

CDC guidance more restrictive than White House (Associated Press, May 13)
“The White House is pushing for reopening but the truth of the matter is the White House has just not had a comprehensive plan where all the pieces fit. They’re doing it piecemeal,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

House Coronavirus Oversight Panel to Focus on U.S. Reopening (Bloomberg, May 12)
A new U.S. House panel created to oversee coronavirus relief spending will focus its first briefing on requirements to safely reopen the American economy during the coronavirus pandemic...

Three others participating are Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute at Harvard University; Tom Inglesby, director for health security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Trump plays down coronavirus testing as U.S. falls short of level scientists say is needed (The Washington Post, May 8)
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said that without widespread testing, the nation faces a “recovery that is fraught with enormous hazards. You cannot have public confidence that people can go out and be around one another. You’ll have to repeatedly close things down.”

Striving for Equity in COVID-19 Testing — A conversation with the executive director of the American Public Health Association (California Health Care Foundation, May 7)
Q: When we talk about racial and ethnic disparities, are we talking primarily about Black populations? Or do these disparities extend to other populations too, such as Latinos?

A: It absolutely extends to Latinos and Asians. . . . It’s all about unequal exposure to the virus. We think that more than 25% of the population that gets infected is asymptomatic while still infectious. If you’re in a public-facing job like so many ethnic and racial minorities, you are at a high risk of getting infected. If you do get infected, you may expose other people to that disease. One extremely high-risk group includes anyone working in or living in a congregate setting, like a nursing home. We are seeing unacceptable job-related outbreaks among meat-packing and farm workers. This is also a big problem for those who are incarcerated. The enormous injustice here is evident when we consider that people of color have been incarcerated way out of proportion to their population. Infectious diseases such as COVID-19 can ravage people in settings like this.

Pandemic 'Weather Service" Key Before Next Outbreak, House Told (Bloomberg Law, May 6)
“If we had such a system, we would have had a better early warning on opioid epidemics, we would have had a better early warning on the obesity epidemic, we absolutely would have had a better early warning on this infectious disease epidemic,” Benjamin said. “All of our data systems are very silo based. They don’t talk to one another, and they’re not fast.”

Why the coronavirus pandemic is hitting communities of color particularly hard (The Hill, May 4)
There were early warnings. Dr. Georges E. Benjamin of the American Public Health Association pointed out that evidence indicated that people over 65 with chronic illnesses would find it toughest. He argues, “When you put that together with the understanding that in this country you already have a [black and brown] population disproportionately affected by disparities in things like diabetes, heart disease and asthma, we understood that if those populations got infected they would be more at risk.”

A coronavirus vaccine may arrive next year. 'Herd immunity' will take longer (BioPharmaDive, May 4)
"If there's a production delay, it's going to look just like testing," Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said, referring to the delayed rollout of SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests. "I think the rate-limiting issue is enough vaccine."

Mathematical models help predict the trajectory of the coronavirus outbreak. But can they be believed?  (Seattle Times, May 3)
When modeling triggers action that alters the course of an epidemic, it can appear that the modelers were ridiculously off-base, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “You have to anticipate that and make sure people understand that the numbers are going to change, and that that’s what success looks like,” he said.

MORE NEWS COVERAGE (April 2020)

As White House's social distancing guidelines expire, health experts worry mixed messages will spur public complacency (The Washington Post, April 30)
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the CDC was under pressure to defer to the states despite the disease’s rampant spread because of White House eagerness to get the economy up and running again.

“I’m not sure they’re being driven completely by the science here,” he said. “They’re trying to do the best they can given that they’re being driven to some extent by the White House.”

Calls to poison control have spiked. Are you using cleaning products safely? (NBC News Today, April 30)
Outside the human body, viruses tend to weaken or die easily. “The virus is a piece of genetic material that is surrounded by kind of a fatty membrane,” Dr. Benjamin said. “And that's important because it means that if you just disrupt the fatty membrane and expose the genetic material, that you in effect can destroy its ability to infect you.”

Why Coronavirus is Not the Great Equalizer (AJ+, April 30)
Georges Benjamin: "We know that there are reasons why we have these health inequities. And that's our societal issues, you know, transportation, and housing, and the environment and all the things that we know that people of color have to deal with that are unequal. And by the way, that includes discrimination and racism."

Half of States Don't Meet Benchmarks to Reopen Amid Coronavirus Pandemic, Analysis Shows (U.S.  News & World Report, April 29)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, [executive director] of the American Public Health Association, says states should also consider other factors, such as hospitalizations and deaths, when they're formulating pandemic policy.

He observes that there are vast testing deserts throughout the U.S. "If you're in Michigan, you've tested a lot of people in Detroit, but you haven't tested a lot in rural communities," Benjamin says. "What does that mean? Michigan is a big state."

'A Terrible Price':'The Deadly Racial Disparities of COVID-19 in America (New York Times magazine, April 29)
Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, a physician and epidemiologist and a former president of the American Public Health Association, describes this effect as “accelerated aging.” “We have evidence that the wear and tear of racism, the stress of it, is responsible for the differences in health outcomes in the black population compared to the white population,” Dr. Jones says.

Will summer kill coronavirus? Cities fear heat waves will quickly become deadly. (The Washington Post, April 28)
Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said the expected reemergence of traditional summer behaviors highlights the need for guidance from public officials beyond simply asking residents to stay indoors or stay six feet apart.

“People are going to want to barbecue, and they are going to want to have large gatherings,” Benjamin said. “I think we are going to have to give them pretty good advice” on how to do it safely.

Will coronavirus finally kill the open office? (Mic, April 28)
Georges Benjamin: I think the workplace will change. How much it changes remains to be seen. I think making sure people get more flu shots, better respiratory hygiene, and hand hygiene will probably become standard. People will probably tend to wash their hands more. Changing people is very tough, but I suspect things like that will continue.

There Aren't Enough Coronavirus Test Kits to Safely Reopen America, Experts Warn (U.S. News & World Report April 27)
There's no way to tell if people already infected with the coronavirus are now immune, even if they carry antibodies, the experts said.

And even if that is the case, far too few people have contracted the virus to create any level of herd immunity, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

COVID-19 Antibody Testing Brings Cautious Hope (WebMD Health News, April 27)
In Los Angeles, some 800 county residents have visited drive-thru testing sites. According to Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association, a little over 4% of adults in the county were antibody-positive.

Discussing possibilities for fall 2020 (GW Hatchet podcast "Getting to the Bottom of It," April 27)
Podcast host Alec Rich speaks with experts in public health and higher education to examine where the University might land in its decision to hold on-campus classes this fall.

Georges Benjamin: "I think we know that we’re still having a fair amount, of course of community transformation of the virus, and that the likelihood of us returning to what we consider the normal environment is just not going to happen anytime soon. And so we’re going to have to continue how we figure out how to readjust for certainly the next several months, kind of in this remote environment and things will be a lot different than they were this time a year ago."

Major health groups and charities urge Trump to reverse World Health Organization funding decision (CNN, April 24)
"The United States cannot rid this insidious virus from the country, nor around the world, without WHO," the letter addressed to President Donald Trump, and sent to the White House on Thursday night says. "WHO is the only organization with the technical capacity and global mandate to support the public health response of all countries during this critical time."

Signatories include influential companies and groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Oxfam, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Public Health Association and the healthcare company Kaiser Permanente.

Uncertainty lies ahead as US enters new phase of coronavirus fight (Washington Examiner, April 24)
Even public health experts differ on whether it is too soon to reopen the economy.

"I absolutely believe it is too early," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director at the American Public Health Association. "And I think Georgia picked the wrong sectors to reopen. Barbershops and beauticians are predominantly minority. They are the population most at risk right now."

How California is Enlisting Star Residents for Stay-at-Home PSAs (The Hollywood Reporter, April 22)
Georges C. Benjamin, the long-serving executive director of the American Public Health Association, says celebrities offer credibility, which is why they're able to influence public behavior...He says because the pandemic is a global crisis, there is a need to accurately communicate vital health information and counter that disinformation to every human on the planet...

"Our world has changed," Benjamin says. "We are in a communication world where every individual is their own radio, TV, Twitter and YouTube producer. Celebrities have always been willing to step up to the plate for global catastrophes, whether it's hurricanes, fires or famine, and this allows them to do that. There is a need for better education around this virus because it's so fast-moving. Like all of us, they bring their strengths and weaknesses to the table, but they have one of the biggest bullhorns in the world, which I always find fascinating and exciting. For me, it shows their contributions and commitment to humanity."

How Many Health Care Workers are Sick with Coronavirus? No One Knows (NY1, April 21)
“Everyone is having challenges getting data but it would be really important to get occupational data to the extent you can,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association. “That would help us target and track, and focus efforts around education, looking for deficits in our work infrastructure and that’s particularly important for health.”

The resumption of NBA season might rely on protocols not yet available (Los Angeles Times, April 20)
Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Assn., said the NBA would “have to avoid at all costs” the optics of reserving an untold number of tests, and the personal protective equipment and medical professionals to conduct them, if such resources are not yet widely available.

“Whatever they do, they have to have a plan and look at what is happening in the rest of the world,” Benjamin said. “… I’m sure most of the players believe they have a community obligation to protect the community.”

'These Numbers Take Your Breath Away': Why Black Americans Are Dying from COVID-19 at Alarming Rates (Courier Newsroom, April 20)
“If you’re in one of those states that did not expand Medicaid, you don’t have equal access to health insurance or access to care,” Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told COURIER....

Black individuals work in the healthcare and personal care fields, which lead to exposure to potentially sick people.

“In many of these communities, the people most impacted, particularly minorities, are public-facing,” Benjamin said. “They’re the ones that are working in skilled nursing homes, they’re bus drivers, they’re in the grocery stores. There are many people in the service industry that are still working today and then you have the challenge, for many of these folks, they’re having to use public transportation, so they’re still out in the public domain going to work.”

'Tuskegee always looms in our minds': Some fear black Americans, hardest hit by coronavirus, may not get vaccine (USA Today, April 19)
More African Americans are likely to get the coronavirus vaccine if adverse effects are reduced, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association and a former Maryland and D.C. health commissioner.That will be aided if African Americans participate in the research for drugs and vaccines, he said...

“What is most important is for people of all races to have equal access to vaccines since we're not going to go back to normality until we have an effective vaccine," Benjamin said.

Experts Worry Politics Will Guide Voters' Virus Precautions (U.S. News & World Report, April 18)
That's prompting concern by public health professionals that voters will use partisan lenses to decide which policymakers they heed as communities consider easing restrictions that have smothered normal life — a potentially dangerous dynamic.

“You’ll get more people sick and run the risk of more people dying, because you’ll have such confusion because people won’t know what to do,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, which represents professionals and organizations in the field. “They’ll selectively pick the advice that aligns with their ideology.”

Contract Tracing Shortage Could Strain Efforts to Reopen Economy (U.S. News & World Report, April 17)
The first step to rapidly building such a workforce is to identify people with backgrounds in public health or health care and steer them toward contact tracing, says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. That could include disease investigation specialists, epidemiologists, public health nurses, community health workers and other personnel who are retired or could be redeployed...

Because the virus is so contagious – each sick person infects about two others, and many are asymptomatic – it's crucial that people who may have been exposed are identified, notified and quarantined as quickly as possible, he says.

"We needed to start yesterday," Benjamin says. "There's an urgency to doing this."

ICE tactics to limit spread of COVID-19 in detention centers stir controversy (Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, April 16)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, said if La Palma has no new cases after 14 days of its last positive test, the virus may be under control.

“But the risk is still there – especially if they don’t have a lot of testing,” Benjamin said. “The rest of us don’t have adequate access to tests – I would wonder how they would.”

Benjamin said he was concerned to hear about the rising number of cases in the Florence Detention Center, where confirmed COVID-19 cases went from two to six in a matter of days, “which tells you they are two weeks behind the outbreak already.”

Big Brother Wants to Track Your Location and Health Data. And That's Not All Bad. (Kaiser Health News, April 16)
Ideally, the information could be useful to public health departments, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

While he has no problem with public health officials getting data ― after all, laws already require reporting of infectious diseases to try to thwart outbreaks — he cited potential privacy problems if it’s a commercial venture doing the gathering.

Senate Democrats Push for Better Federal Response and More $$ for COVID-19 Testing (MedPage Today, April 16)
Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association, also on the call, said: "Clearly testing has been inadequate so far. It's given us very, very limited information on the scope of this disease in our population."

"Testing is an essential public health component of any opportunity we have to return to work or play," said Benjamin. "Testing will tell us who has the disease, who has had the disease, who is at risk of getting the disease ... and help us understand the prevalence of the disease in the community. That, coupled with knowing how many people are sick, and tracking how many people die, will allow us to ultimately open up our community and society back to near normal, and also will tell us how close we are to herd immunity."

Trump wants to reopen America in a few weeks. In internal documents, federal health officials warn the bar to do so safely may be too high (USA Today, April 15)

The chronically underfunded U.S. public health infrastructure is combatting the new coronavirus outbreak after shedding 50,000 workers since the 2008 recession, according to a survey of state and local health departments cited by the American Public Health Association in an article for StatNews.

U.S. conservatives who detest climate models add a new target: coronavirus models (Science Magazine and Scientific American courtesy E&E News, April 15)
The last few weeks are proof that modeling works, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. Without their guidance, more people would have died, more economic harm would have occurred and greater health care cost burdens would have been placed on the system, he said.

"The models become even more important now because we're going to need to know when we should adjust our reopening," he said. "We're going to need these models to help us know, as some kind of early warning, when we should stop and pause or pull back a little bit, because if we don't, what will happen is we will get too far down the line and things will get much worse before they get better."

WBO Champion Terence Crawford Says Coronavirus Is a Media-Driving Conspiracy: 'They're Using Fear to Try to Control Us' (Newsweek, April 15)
Like many other conspiracy theories, the claims have been swiftly debunked by scientists.

"COVID-19 is caused by a virus that came through a natural animal source and has no relation to 5G, or any radiation linked to technology," Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said last week.

Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Georges Benjamin, MD (April 15)
"We continue to throw a lot of money into the system when something bad like this happens. And then as soon as it goes way, we allow the infrastructure to go away."

US hospitals are inundated. Some foreign-born workers are blocked from helping (ABS/CBN News, April 14)
Underutilized foreign-trained professionals have valuable linguistic and cultural skills that could be put to use, said José Ramón Fernández-Peña, president-elect of the American Public Health Association, and a doctor now advising students at Northwestern University.

They could consult with patients over the phone or by video, screen patients at hospitals or work at testing sites, and help with case management on the data side, he suggested.

Because these professionals might also speak the languages of underserved populations, he said, “we could reach the communities that are typically served last.”

Pandemic Preparation (Ozarks Tonight, April 13)
"We absolutely need to build a public health system for the future." -- APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD

As the going gets tough, America returns to experts for help (Associated Press, April 12)
Says Benjamin: "We've finally taught the nation about public health and science, and I'm hoping we can build on that."

What flaws in the U.S. healthcare system has the coronavirus pandemic exposed? (The Gazette, April 12)
In this country, two-thirds of people who file for bankruptcy cite medical issues as a key contributor to their financial downfall. An estimated 530,000 families turn to bankruptcy each year because of medical expenses, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Half a million human beings are financially devastated because we are too stubborn to recognize that health care is a human right.

Experts Explain How Making Art While You're Stuck at Home Can Help Mental Health (All World Report, April 12)
Science backs it up. A review of studies on art and health published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2010 found that doing some form of artistic activity improves wellbeing and feelings of self-worth, relieves symptoms of anxiety and depression, and reduces stress.

Politics mixes with science as states turn to virus models (Associated Press, April 11)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said some public officials tend to act according to what “politically plays the best” instead of “following the science.”

“It’s good to have optimistic models, but I prefer to be more of a pessimist when you don’t know what’s going,” Benjamin said.

A fight over data infiltrates Trumpworld's response to coronavirus (Politico, April 10)
“It’s called science,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “And it’s called dealing with a brand-new disease, which you have absolutely no knowledge about. And people are learning on the fly.”

Scientists say models have been limited by the scant availability of data with a fast-moving virus, and from weak testing and surveillance in the United States — what Benjamin called the efforts’ “Achilles’ heel.”

“The more people politicize this,” he said, “the more trust they ruin, the less trust people have and the harder it will be to do the next time this happens.”

Coronavirus is disproportionately killing the black community. Here's what experts say can be done about it (ABC News, April 9)
Benjamin drew parallels to how he witnessed the AIDS and opioid epidemics affect black communities as a frontline physician in the '80s.

“I was around in the early days of the AIDS epidemic and watched that one ravage communities… and even how the opioid epidemic ravaged communities of color”, he said. He noted that outbreaks devastating communities of color have been a repeated theme throughout history.

Black People are Disproportionately Getting and Dying from COVID-19 (US News & World Report, April 7)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says the pandemic has pulled back the curtain on social inequities and health care disparities – problems that usually aren't revealed in real time, or under such a harsh national spotlight.

"We have always known that we've had these enormous social determinants that impact health and create an unequal society," he says. "I'm not surprised that we have had these enormous disparities in illness and deaths from COVID-19. They exist for everything else."

African Americans may be dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate. Better data is essential, experts say (NBC News, April 7)
Releasing racial and ethnic data needs to be an important priority for public health officials, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. Data can help states and the federal government decide where to focus their attention.

"If we're serious about making sure that we improve the health of our populations," he said, "then we will focus like a laser on those populations that we know historically are more at risk."

Coronavirus Disease Discriminates. Our Health Care Doesn't Have To (Newsweek, April 7)
Communities of color should not be "sacrifice zones" with regard to the COVID-19 response. One wonders about the decision to disembark infected persons from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Oakland Bay rather than in San Francisco Bay, noting that Oakland has a much higher population of color. Or about the decision to convert Carney Hospital in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston to be the country's first hospital devoted to the care of COVID-19 patients, depriving that predominantly black neighborhood of access to other medical services and possibly increasing the risk of infection in the area. 

Long-standing racial and income disparities seen creeping into COVID-19 care (Modern Healthcare, April 6)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, has been pushing health officials to start monitoring race and income in the response to COVID-19.

"We want people to collect the data in an organized, professional, scientific manner and show who's getting it [appropriate care] and who's not getting it," Benjamin said. "Recognize that we very well may see these health inequities."

Trump says hospitals will be paid for treating uninsured coronavirus patients (New York Times, April 3)
Consumer groups and public health experts said paying hospitals for uncompensated care would not help the millions of Americans who are now without coverage.

“It’s a failure, a fundamental failure, to understand how people get care,” said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association in Washington. He says the focus on paying hospitals for coronavirus patients doesn’t help doctors treat people, including those without the virus, outside of the hospital to lessen the burden on emergency rooms and hospital staff.

Social distancing works, but resistance prompts worries of growing crisis (The Hill, April 3)
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said it is clear that social distancing measures are working, but he is concerned that the entire country is not following them.

“It worked in California, in Seattle, that's great. ... We are a very mobile country and there are still places where they are not doing physical distancing at all,” Benjamin said.

The Coronavirus Doesn't Discriminate. U.S. Health Care May Be a Different Story (WVPB-FM, April 1)
FARMER: Nationwide, it's difficult to know how minority populations are faring because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention isn't reporting any data on race. Dr. Georges Benjamin has been pushing the CDC to start monitoring race and income in the response to COVID-19. He leads the American Public Health Association.

GEORGES BENJAMIN: We want people to collect the data in an organized, professional, scientific manner and show who's getting it and who's not getting it and recognize in that we may very well see these health inequities.

FARMER: Benjamin says until he's convinced otherwise, he assumes the usual disparities are at play.

BENJAMIN: Experience has taught all of us if you're poor, if you're of color, you're going to get services second.

   
MORE NEWS COVERAGE (March 2020)

Holdout governors face pressure to issue stay-at-home orders (The Hill, March 30)
Some leading experts said all states should be issuing stay-at-home orders and closing nonessential businesses. According to a database from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 22 states have still taken no action on stay-at-home orders, and 16 have not on closing nonessential businesses.

“The sooner the better,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said of statewide stay-at-home orders. “Waiting until you get a lot of cases is the wrong strategy.”

Limited testing poses challenges to mapping COVID-19 Spread (Modern Healthcare, March 30)
The traditional way of mapping communicable diseases like COVID-19 tends to rely on first determining those who have the disease through testing, and then identifying those at risk, such as partners or coworkers who have come into contact with them, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

"That's still important to do," he said. "It's effective."

Fact check: Could your December cough actually have been coronavirus? Experts say more research is needed (USA Today, March 26)
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said he believes when researchers do more testing, they will probably find the disease was in the U.S. earlier than first believed.

"I believe at the end of this, when we do look back – and we will – we will probably find that this disease was here earlier than we thought," he said. "We also know that when we closed our borders, it was very, very leaky."

Protecting Grocery Store Workers and Shoppers from COVID-19(Forbes, March 23)
The most important focus now is curbing the spread of infectious disease, says George Benjamin, MD, president of the American Public Health Association.

“Obviously, if you’re symptomatic, if you have a fever or cough, you should stay home,” he says, but stores also need to have the right policies in place to keep their workers healthy.

“I continue to argue that paid sick leave is the most effective strategy to allow them to stay home,” says Benjamin. 

Johnson County daycare facilities remaining open amid school closures and COVID-19 pandemic (Shawnee Mission Post, March 19)
The Johnson County Department of Health and Environment on Tuesday said it concurred with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment that all licensed child care facilities should remain open amid the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain child safety and provide access for those without additional child care options.

“There are some things that we need to do to keep our at-risk families able to work, and this is one,” said [APHA Executive Board member] Eldonna Chesnut, child care licensing director for the county. “Is there increased risk with kids in childcare facilities — yes. However, providers are an essential part of helping families get through this crisis and it is imperative that parents have a safe, licensed environment to leave their children while they are at work.”

Chesnut said county staff have looked at “the scientific evidence, community need, available resources and other factors before arriving at a decision.”

Take a deep breath: Making risk-based decisions in the coronavirus era (The Jamestown Sun, March 18)
“We ought to make risk-based decisions,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Expect change. Maybe daily. But also take a deep breath. Some things are still all right.

“At the end of the day, we have to take care of our kids, our family, we have to eat,” said Benjamin. “What people ought to do is think about how best to reduce risk and do as many less risky things as they can.”

So what about walking around the neighborhood?

“Yes, but not in groups,” said Benjamin, who added that he would wave at his neighbors while out for a stroll but “would not have a long conversation.”

Coronavirus: Will US be ready in the weeks ahead? (BBC News, March 17)
Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, describes the situation as a partnership at the local, state and federal levels, but one that can have gaps based on funding or differing political views about how involved the government should be.

"We are not as prepared as we should be," Dr Benjamin told the BBC. "We have not had a year without a public health emergency since 2011. But this is the big one we have been predicting."

Among the issues at play are an "underfunded public health system, a just-in-time healthcare delivery system and an under-practiced preparedness system," according to Dr Benjamin.

How can you do social distancing at home? Tips for families as coronavirus spreads (Raleigh News & Observer, March 17)
What if a spouse or another family member is in self-quarantine due to the risk of exposure?

In that case, others should avoid using the same bedroom or bathroom, if possible, Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told NPR.

Self Quarantine? Isolation? Social Distancing? What They Mean And When To Do Them (NPR, March 16)
A diagnosis of COVID-19 triggers isolation.

"Isolation is when you are sick, either at home or in the hospital," says Benjamin. "Infectious disease precautions are then much more rigid than in self-quarantine."

"State public health cuts hamper coronavirus containment" (ABC News, March 16)
Most state and local governments put public health on the back burner when it comes to their priorities and in some cases, reduce the amount dedicated to those offices, according to Dr. Georges Benjamin, the executive director at the American Public Health Association. Benjamin, a former secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, said these cuts left many states in a weakened position to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

“Public health, from a funding perspective, is a weak link of the system. We throw money at it when the crisis comes, but usually, it’s not enough and it’s too late,” he told ABC News.

To stop coronavirus in its tracks, here's your guide to 5 degrees of separation (PolitiFact, March 16)
Quarantining means staying home and away from other people as much as possible for that 14-day period. People in this circumstance who don’t live alone should do their best to retreat to their room or find a separate area in their home, and don’t go out shopping, eating or socializing.

"Don’t sleep in the same bedroom [with other family members] and try to use a separate toilet, if you can," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "Be careful with dishes. They should go right from you into the dishwasher."

PoliticsNation With Al Sharpton (MSNBC, March 15)
“As a physician, I want to make sure the public knows that public health community has your back. We are very much concerned about those people who have coronavirus now and with respect to those people who have already died." -- APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin, MD

"Social Distancing: Places and Events to Avoid Because of Coronavirus" (Huffington Post, March 14)
Right now, we don’t have any vaccine or antiviral medication to treat COVID-19 if people do get the disease. “So what we do is try to keep people away from one another and try to keep it from spreading in a variety of ways,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association...

Deciding whether or not to go is best approached by asking yourself a few questions, according to Pamela Aaltonen, professor emerita of nursing at Purdue University and past president of the American Public Health Association.

First, she says, consider how essential the travel really is. You should also find out what’s currently known about the number of cases at both ends of the travel (including layovers). Of course, “this is very challenging now because we’re not yet doing widespread testing,” Aaltonen said...

With so much uncertainty surrounding a rapidly spreading and potentially life-threatening disease, it can feel overwhelming. But Benjamin’s final words of wisdom should be reassuring: “People need to be informed, but not afraid.”

U.S. unions, groups urge government steps to protect workers from coronavirus (CNBC, March 13)
In a letter, the groups asked the Operational Safety and Health Administration to build a list of workers in need of protection, provide training to help workers reduce their own exposure, and creating a national exposure control plan.

“An adequate and immediate mandatory federal standard for infectious disease is critical to preventing the rapid spread of the disease to health care workers and first responders in particular,” the letter said.

Public Health expert says African Americans are at greater risk for death from coronavirus (The Undefeated, March 13)
For a whole host of economic, political and historical reasons, Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says it’s a threat that African Americans need to take particularly seriously.

“We get a lot of misinformation circulating through our communities,” Benjamin said. “We fundamentally don’t trust some of the [non-black] institutions because they do not serve us well. We need to make sure our trusted institutions, clinicians of color, churches, community organizations, are better educated.”

"Coronavirus will hit the health system hard, and not all states are prepared" (Los Angeles Times, March 12)
Differences in the availability of paid sick time also mean many more workers in some states face pressure to stay on the job, even if they are ill, making it harder to contain the spread of disease.

“When you look across the country, there is just an enormous amount of variation,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the longtime executive director of the American Public Health Assn.

“States that haven’t invested worry me the most, and their health statistics show the results,” Benjamin added. “But there seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding about why those investments are important.”

How Public Health Can Serve the Communities and Populations at the Greatest Risk for Being Left Behind (Public Health on Call, March 12)
Joshua Sharfstein: So what kinds of areas of distrust are risks here, for certain communities, around the coronavirus?

Georges Benjamin: Well, the big thing is that people are always worried that folks are not there for their best interest, or that they’re trying something new on them that they’ve not tried on anybody else before. So we have to make sure that people understand that we are giving them best practices and giving them the best advice. The way you do that is you speak clearly to people. You tell them what you know. You tell them what you don’t know. And you have to be there throughout the whole disease outbreak, and you have to come back after the outbreak is over, in order to make sure they understand that you’re there for the long haul.

"Face masks in national stockpile have not been substantially replenished since 2009(The Washington Post, March 10)
In late 2018, responsibility for managing the stockpile shifted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to a different part of the Department of Health and Human Services. That arm, headed by Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR), already supervised the National Disaster Medical System, which deploys thousands of federal employees to help with major emergencies. That system has its own inventories of medical supplies and other equipment.

“Once we get into the situation where we have broad enough community spread and need to deploy the stockpile broadly, this will be a big test as to how well the shift to ASPR has worked,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

"States have 'immense' power to fight coronavirus(Roll Call, March 10)
The biggest problem we have is around readiness, driven by a lack of funding,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Insufficient funding, he said, has left most states with significant public health vacancies, forcing them to move employees from other areas into infectious disease to address the outbreak.

"Coronavirus poses new test for strained public health system(The Hill, Jan. 30)
“We have not had a year in our country where we’ve not had a public health emergency to address and we’re continuing to do it on a shoestring budget,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association (APHA).