"People need to be informed, but not afraid"

TV screen with Al Sharpton, Georges Benjamin, other speakers on COVID-19 and communities of color

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: 

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.

"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).

NBC logo, Coming Up Facts Over Fear


What to Do if You Live With Someone Who May Have Coronavirus (Huffington Post, March 19)
The CDC recommends having the sick person stay in one room, away from any other people in the house as much as possible. That means sleeping in separate rooms and using separate bathrooms, if possible.

“Limit the number of places the sick person goes to and separate them from other family members,” Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told HuffPost. “If a separate room isn’t possible, try a separate bed.”

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.

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."

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.