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Can public health recover from being rebuked in polls?

WASHINGTON – Even without a president-elect, one thing is certain: The 2020 election results are a disaster for public health.

Results from Tuesday and early Wednesday show how many Americans agree with a president who called the nation’s top scientists “idiots,” openly mocking the masking and stresses that states must be “liberated” from the locks. Regardless of who wins the presidency, more than 67 million Americans appear to have sided with Trump on public health. In the preliminary exit polls, only 14% of Republican voters surveyed said the coronavirus pandemic was the deciding factor in who they voted for, despite the fact that the virus did. killing more than 233,000 Americans and spreading across the country.

That leaves public health officials facing difficult, lingering questions: How can they forge a new relationship with this vast land as the pandemic continues? Where does the public health sector go from here?


“Even if Trump doesn̵

7;t win, the majority of the population will vote for him, so that still seems like a big wary!” Heidi Tworek, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, who has studied the success of different countries in getting their populations to comply with Covid-19 mitigation measures.

Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Association of Public Health, said: “We’ll have to do some serious soul searching, who stresses that public health officials are not worth it. were blamed for a political response to their message, but could “play a key role in making sure we come up with ways to address this in the future.”


Public health practices and guidelines are not ideological; Nor is the feedback for them to be monolithic. But polls show that Democrats in general tend to favor a stronger public health response to the pandemic while Republicans tend to oppose such measures.

Scientists, epidemiologists and public health experts who spoke to the STAT shared about the future of public health. Most claim there are frank, albeit challenging, ways to get people who have denied public health measures so far and who appear to have voted against a public health response. stricter on Tuesday.

But at least one expert thinks the cause is hopeless.

“If there was a way to fix it, we’d do it,” said Holden Thorp, editor-in-chief of Science and a family of other journals. “Science is on the ballot and this means that a significant portion of America doesn’t want science. … Science is now something for a small group of America. “

For Lindsey Leininger, a public health educator and clinical professor at Dartmouth College, engaging more people on the science side is an existential imperative. Failure is “simply unacceptable.” For her, the first step is simple: acknowledge the problem.

“We have a huge hole in our cultural intelligence and I think it’s really important for us to recognize and accept it,” she said. “We need to know that this is a blind spot, and we need to work with people who believe in science and have prestige in conservatives.”

Others argue that remarkably simple tactics – like listening carefully to skeptics, like asking them to help think about a solution – will also make big bumps.

“The approach commonly used is, ‘We just need to tell those who believe they are wrong.’ Maybe not that directly, but in other ways. Maybe what we need to do is invest in listening to their concerns and understanding their perspectives, before we start delivering our message, ”said Glen Nowak, a longtime communicator. at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who now heads Georgia’s University. Health and Risk Communication Center.

APHA’s Benjamin says similarly. “Let’s do it seriously. … Sit down and talk to people and say: Hey, we want to stop the spread of this disease, what ideas do you have?”

Krutika Kuppalli, a doctor and professor at the Medical College of South Carolina, recommends implementing a direct outreach to make communities reluctant to “feel empowered”.

Gregg Gonsalves, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health, added a note: target that participation at those who appear willing to listen.

“You give people the benefit of doubt as long as you can,” he said. “You see where you can get in … you don’t waste your time on trolls or those who see public health as a punching bag for a bigger political debate.”

There are reasons for hope for public health. For example, officials have helped successfully quell the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in part through a door-to-door approach. Taiwan, which publicly fought to prevent the 2003 outbreak of SARS as its citizens resisted public health measures such as quarantine, is now considered one of the best in terms of how to respond. with the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our fate is really in our hands … it is possible to completely transform your system,” said Tworek of the University of British Columbia, who has studied the Taiwan example. “It was an incredibly difficult test, but that doesn’t mean we should be nothing, give up and do nothing.”

But knocking on doors and taking time to reach reluctant Americans could be more difficult if the public health workforce continues to decline – as some predictions could come after yesterday’s election. Tuesday.

“We have been studying this pandemic for 10 months. … We were exhausted, we were overwhelmed, you were asking us to put our lives in jeopardy, ”said Kuppalli of the University of South Carolina Medical College, who notes that she has colleagues. are bringing together application packages for working abroad.

“We may have what we call brain drain in the United States,” she added.

As of August, at least 49 state and local public health officials across the country have left their posts, according to an investigation by Kaiser Health News and Associated Press. And that number does not include infectious disease doctors working in hospitals or those working in universities.

However, Yale’s Gonsalves stresses that many are not “cut and run.”

“This is what we were made of. This is a pandemic, this is our challenge, this is our call, this is our mission, “said Gonsalves. “We do what we do: Doctors are not giving up on patients and we are not giving up public health.”

“If scientists were to be silent, there would be no antagonistic weight to crackpot theories and quack theory,” he added.

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