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Dr. Ashish Jha: Public health ‘cannot become partisan’ issue

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Dr. Ashish Jha discusses the persisting challenges of America’s public health system, what’s next for COVID-19, and the dangers of misinformation

Former Covid-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha during the daily press briefing at the White House on Dec. 15, 2022.Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post

PROVIDENCE — Five years ago, the majority of America could not properly define public health, said Dr. Ashish Jha, who recently left the Biden administration as the nation’s last White House COVID-19 czar. After a global pandemic, he said the science-based field that is designed to protect people’s health has, in some circles, “become a dirty word.”

On the latest episode of the Rhode Island Report podcast, Jha reflected on his time working in the White House, the persisting challenges in America’s public health system, what’s next for COVID-19, and the dangers he saw firsthand when misinformation spreads.

“Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died because of bad information in this pandemic,” said Jha. “So the cost of that information is enormously high.”

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Jha, who has returned to his role as the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, was interviewed on cable news network shows across the globe during the height of the pandemic.

President Joe Biden speaks from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington. White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha listens at right.Susan Walsh/Associated Press

When he joined the Biden administration to help America begin managing the pandemic — instead of reacting to it in a constant “crisis mode” — he was seen by leaders across the political spectrum as even-handed, despite the deep polarization in Washington that wedged a political divide over public health

“Public health cannot become a partisan thing. That is bad for public health, that is bad for America,” said Jha, who admitted that most public health professionals tend to be “left of center” and need to work on communicating across the political spectrum. “We have to do a better job of that. And that’s on us.”

In a recent opinion piece for the Globe, Jha noted that while it makes sense to be wary about Covid, “we are in a much different, much better place.”

“The truth is that we can now prevent nearly every COVID death. People who are up to date on their vaccines and get treated when infected rarely get seriously ill,” he wrote. “The fact is, now a few basic steps mean you can ignore COVID safely — and get back to doing things that matter, even with COVID still around.”

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To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.