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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.
Want a path forward on COVID19?— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) March 29, 2020
Read excellent @AEI report by @ScottGottliebMD, others
1 Shut things down
2 Expand testing
3 Get hospitals ready
4 Open when sustained drops in cases
5 Build a disease surveillance system
6 Test, isolate, vigorouslyhttps://t.co/UjV6cn7r9Z
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.
For many months, I defended @CharlieBakerMA against critics, saying our governor has done a good job— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) December 6, 2020
Over past 6 weeks, I've gone from uncomfortable to aghast at lack of action
They must see different data because no rational explanation for lack of action
There has been a surge of infections in the US and across much of Europe— Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH (@ashishkjha) December 9, 2020
At one point, both UK & France had more cases (per capita) than we did
But the three big European nations put in policies to bring the virus under control
And its working
And we haven't
And it shows pic.twitter.com/Yoknk4xpjO
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Jessie Scanlon is a writer in Cambridge. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.