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Bloomberg American Health Summit Tackles Pressing Public Health Challenges Facing Country Amidst Preparation for COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Leaders including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. David Kessler and Dr. Tom Frieden examine steps for a post-COVID-19 world and how communities are confronting other health challenges, including opioid use, food insecurity, gun violence, racial injustice, and environmental inequality

NEW YORK – Today, as the public awaits distribution of much-anticipated COVID-19 vaccines amid a record-breaking surge of coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, more than 30 of the nation’s leaders and innovators in infectious disease, public health, government, and nonprofit advocacy gathered for the virtual Bloomberg American Health Summit to share their perspectives on what it will take for the United States to fully recover from the pandemic and build a healthier future.

More than 1,100 people tuned in to hear from public and private sector experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. David Kessler and Dr. Tom Frieden, Mike Bloomberg, leaders from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and top U.S. journalists about topics ranging from: prospects for vaccine approval, distribution and uptake; how to build trust among vaccine skeptics, particularly within communities of color; how to permanently address the racial and systemic inequities that have been starkly exposed by the pandemic; how to strengthen and support public health now and over the long term; and how to deal with the uneven consequences of the pandemic that have exacerbated food insecurity and inequities in learning that could leave certain children permanently behind.

Bloomberg Philanthropies Founder Michael R. Bloomberg said the summit couldn’t come at a better time for public health. “It’s outrageous that public health leaders who work in a data driven field based on honesty and all the tenets of science have been ignored and attacked by so many of our political leaders. The result is a crisis of trust and an enormous amount of public confusion that has had deadly consequences. Meanwhile COVID-19 rages on with record number of cases here in the U.S. even as much of the rest of the world is succeeding in keeping the virus under control.”

In a conversation with the BBC’s Katty Kay, Biden Chief Medical Advisor Anthony Fauci said that if the U.S. is going to flatten the curve like other countries are doing, “We have got to own the problem.” Fauci said he worries that despite record-breaking cases of hospitalizations and deaths “we’re seeing in some parts of the country, what would be the equivalent of almost denial, where people still don’t think this is a big deal. They think this is fake news or a little bit of a hoax.”

David Kessler, co-chair of President-Elect Biden’s COVID-19 Task Force, told MSNBC Anchor and Editorial Board Member at The Washington Post Jonathan Capehart that Americans need to prepare for “the ascendency of this 3rd wave” of the pandemic. Kessler says it’s not clear when the wave will plateau so it it’s critical to assume that “everybody is at risk.” That means social distancing, wearing masks, and, wherever possible, staying at home.

In an interview with NBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, who is recovering from COVID-19, former CDC Director and CEO of Resolve to Save Lives Tom Frieden, focused on how coronavirus testing is sorely lacking due an incoherent federal response. But he also said “a lot of it is about money. If we simply told the large companies that tests that take more than 48 hours to come back are of little value, so we will pay little or nothing for them, they may be able to do a better job.”

In a session examining the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on communities of color, speakers talked about the racial pandemic within the viral pandemic. Joni Holifield, who founded HeartSmiles in Baltimore, said that “it’s hard to focus on pandemic recovery when COVID is like the predator in the ocean but you have already drowned. Poor communities of color were already trying to survive when COVID hit,” she said, but at least it “forced everyone who was turning a blind eye to racism to pay attention and at the very least step out of denial.” Any recovery must include a plan to permanently address structural racism and structural poverty that created these inequities.  Dr. Lisa Cooper, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity, advocated a different way of embracing herd immunity as a means to protect everyone against all the negative social factors that influence health. Cooper emphasized that policymakers have the power to determine things like setting a livable minimum wage so people can afford to live in a healthy neighborhood and buy healthy food. Inequities in health are not just a matter of individuals making bad choices, she said, but rather the opportunities people have to make healthier choices.

During a panel moderated by PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff about a new partnership announced today between Bloomberg Philanthropies and the U.S. Conference of Mayors aimed at assisting mayors through the vaccine roll-out. Mayor of Dayton, Ohio, Nan Whaley talked about the importance of making sure that vaccines reach all communities fairly and equitably, noting that not every community has a Walmart or CVS.  It also will be important to have strong messengers. “The best validator is going to be friends and neighbors,” she said, noting that in her city she regularly talks to clergy and makes sure that she can supply answers to all the questions the public has from trusted experts. Dr. Deidra Crews, of Johns Hopkins University, is part of a team of experts at the university that will provide guidance for local officials on rolling out the vaccines. Dr. Crews said people need to understand where the mistrust comes from.  “When we think about trust or mistrust, we think this is something historically, that is from years ago, even centuries ago. But there are present day examples that these communities can turn to both in their own experience and family members and friends.”

playlist of the Summit sessions is available on Bloomberg Philanthropies’ YouTube channel.

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For more information, contact:
Jean Weinberg
332-201-0508
jean@bloomberg.org

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in more than 570 cities and over 160 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2019, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $3.3 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org or follow us on FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, and TikTok.

About the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg American Health Initiative
The Bloomberg American Health Initiative was created in 2016 with a $300 million gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Initiative is tackling key public health challenges in the U.S., focusing primarily on addiction and overdose, adolescent health, the environment, obesity and the food system, and violence. It is also working to train a new generation of professionals committed to improving health in America.

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