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The COVID Scientists

Ashish Jha: Speaking out for science and for public health in the pandemic

He didn’t want to be a TV personality, but Jha wanted Americans to be well-informed about COVID-19.

Ashish Jha is the former director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. In September he started as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.Nick Dentamaro/Brown University

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In January, Dr. Ashish Jha wrote an op-ed for Health Affairs saying the United States, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was “likely to escape the worst” of the coronavirus. But by February, the then-director of the Harvard Global Health Institute was seeing none of the testing infrastructure he’d expected to see the United States establish. He realized that “we just wasted an entire month, which is a lifetime in a pandemic.” Without testing, the virus’s spread couldn’t be measured.


Jha started speaking out and tweeting with alarm. He called for a two-week national shutdown in March, when President Trump was promising that the virus “will go away.” And he raised early concerns about front-line workers lacking personal protective equipment.

Reporters started calling. Jha thought he “was just filling a short-term gap” until the CDC’s experts started holding briefings. But when the Trump administration started its COVID briefings in March, CDC officials were not front and center. Jha found himself inundated with media calls — he estimates he was doing up to 30 interviews a day. “I mean, my goal was never to become a TV personality,” says Jha, who is 50. But he felt a duty to fill what he saw as a void of reliable information about the pandemic.

He’ll be happy to get back to his regular job — in September he started as dean of the Brown University School of Public Health — and finding ways to avoid a repeat of this experience because, he says, “more pandemics are coming.”

But first, we need to get through the next few months. The long-predicted second surge has arrived, and Jha is using his Twitter clarion to sound a new alarm. Just before Thanksgiving, Jha tweeted that the nation would soon have 120,000 hospitalized patients, outstripping intensive care capacity in a “majority of states.” Worse, he warned, “It won’t be lack of ICU beds, ventilators. Nope. We’ll struggle with enough doctors, nurses.”


But one thing we won’t lack, if Jha can help it, is the right information.



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Jessie Scanlon is a writer in Cambridge. Send comments to