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:
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.