Public health expert responds to Trump’s interviews with Bob Woodward

President Donald Trump’s comments on the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in a series of taped interviews with journalist Bob Woodward underscore the need for the United States to act quickly to turn a corner on control of the virus, a prominent public health expert is urging. 

In an op-ed published Monday in the Boston Globe, Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, wrote about the implications of the disclosure in Woodward’s book “Rage” — that Trump described the virus being “deadly stuff” in interviews with the journalist even as he downplayed the dangers of COVID-19 to the public. 

“The political impact of this disclosure is yet to be measured, but the public health impact is dismally clear,” Jha wrote. “Given what the president knew and when he knew it, if he and the federal government had acted on that knowledge, a majority of the more than 194,000 confirmed deaths could have been prevented — a fact that Woodward may not have considered in his decision to withhold his interviews until now. Given this disclosure, as a nation we must take action on basic public health measures to save tens of thousands of lives moving forward.”

For too long, the doctor wrote, the response to the virus in the United States was mired by politicization and “undermining confidence around key facts of the outbreak.” 

“For much of the last six months, there has been a battle between scientists — who have called for more testing, more protective equipment, more social distancing, and wearing of masks — and those who have sought to sow discord and confusion by undermining the basic facts,” Jha wrote. “Their arguments, advanced by the president, included the notion that this virus is no worse than the flu, that it largely spares the young, and that testing makes it appear worse.”

The politicization made it more difficult to control the spread of the virus in the United States, the dean wrote. 

With the president now “on record acknowledging what epidemiologists and public health experts have been saying for months” there should no longer be a need to fight the pandemic “on two fronts,” he said. 

“While we can agonize over who knew what when, the public health imperative is to use what we know and take action now,” Jha wrote. 

The dean urged that the U.S. “can no longer afford” to debate the misinformation that has “hampered” the country’s response to the virus. 

“The past weeks have seen an avalanche of news about politics distorting and hobbling the work of public health,” Jha wrote. “But it is possible that the words of the president, now in the public realm, can stem the ubiquitous tide of misinformation. There is no more effective countermeasure than for those who have propagated much of it to hear Trump’s own voice putting the facts in clear terms. We are at a moment where we must accept and respond to the basic book of facts.” 

Read his full op-ed in the Globe.