News about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic can seem like a hotbed of paradoxical information, lacking in clear answers because there is still so much to learn. While it is important to stay informed and aware about what exactly is going on, knowing what questions to ask can be just as hard as finding the right answers.
Public Health on Call is a new podcast by experts from the Bloomberg School of Public Health. According to the introduction at the start of each episode, the intent of the show is to help listeners make sense of news about the coronavirus and what it means for the future.
Each episode is focused on a central question and is relatively short, running for about 10 to 15 minutes, and is organized so that listeners can quickly identify answers to specific questions and concerns. The podcast is available online as well as most music streaming services. Since March 3, there have been nearly 40 episodes to date.
Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, who is currently a vice dean at the School of Public Health, is one of the producers and hosts of Public Health on Call. As the former health commissioner of Baltimore City and former health secretary of Maryland, he has experience in responding to public health crises.
According to Sharfstein, Public Health on Call has risen to the moment by speaking to the anxieties and questions people have during the pandemic.
“I listen to a lot of podcasts, and we have experience with podcasts through The American Health Podcast. So I thought it could be a useful way to connect with a larger audience,” Sharfstein wrote.
Some episodes are inspired by listeners’ questions. Listeners can send questions to PublicHealthQuestion@jhu.edu. The email account is monitored by Eric Toner, a senior scholar of the Hopkins Center for Health Security. Other episodes address the most-debated issue of the day.
The scope of the podcast is not limited to discussions about the public health response. For example, there are episodes about the effect of the pandemic on law, the economy and prison populations. A couple episodes compare the COVID-19 pandemic to previous health crises like the flu pandemic of 1918 and the ebola outbreak.
After locating experts to interview on the topic for the week, hosts often interview those experts on the same day.
“Usually, we talk a few minutes about how the conversation might go, and then we turn the recording on. We generally record in just one take,” Sharfstein wrote when asked about the preparatory work for each episode.
Most episodes contain various academic perspectives for each topic. One episode, “Are Men More Susceptible to COVID-19?” not only brought in behavioral and biological perspectives, but also talked about how there are fewer women in global health and response team leadership positions even though the majority of health-care workers are female. The podcast rarely delves into complex academic language and is catered to the general public. Students can benefit from the interdisciplinary perception of the crisis.
Some episodes are structured more strictly like formal interviews, while others flow like conversations. There are several episodes answering questions from listeners. Topics feature the perspectives of multiple stakeholders and experts. Some of these perspectives include: nurses, doctors, academics, community leaders, medical examiners and more. The multiple perspectives and the conversation-style delivery make the podcast easier to digest than a standard news article, according to Sharfstein.
“There’s no substitute for hearing directly from people doing key research, or seeing patients, or working in a community to save the lives of their neighbors. Podcasts are a great medium for bringing work alive,” Sharfstein wrote.
He also noted that one of the aims of the podcast is to reach out to larger communities. In this vein, one of the episodes was done completely in Spanish.
For students who are looking for a more reliable resource for information on COVID-19, as well as a platform to ask questions to experts, check out Public Health on Call.