End the duopoly

Why politicians shouldn’t be the public face of the coronavirus response

When the U.S. experiences sudden outbreaks of disease, the federal government typically appoints a spokesperson. That person communicates the latest data, issues recommendations to keep people as safe as possible, and provides a calm and reassuring voice until the storm passes.

Most health communication experts agree that person should be a scientist — not a politician. That’s particularly the case for a politically polarized country like the United States.

“It is crucial that the public face for health information on the coronavirus should be a highly respected public health figure,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law and director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

“The public must have trust in that person to provide unbiased, science-based information.”

When politicians overstep, he explained, that can add a layer of politics to a science-based recommendation. Already, that seems to be happening during the Covid-19 crisis.

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