Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Baltimore, MD

“We had been thinking about the threat of a pandemic long before any of us had heard of COVID-19,” Dean Ellen J. MacKenzie of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says. “One of my first official functions as dean of the Bloomberg School — back in the fall of 2017 — was to preside over a symposium that reflected on lessons learned from the 1918 flu. Our keynote speaker was none other than Anthony Fauci, and the event’s official title was: ‘The Pandemic: Are We Prepared?’ The answer, according to the panelists, was a resounding no,” MacKenzie says. 

“When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US we were faced with two overwhelming challenges: One, we had to keep our school community both safe and functioning, and two, we had to leverage our expertise to help the world understand and combat COVID,” MacKenzie recalls. “The Bloomberg School moved very quickly to share the knowledge of our experts, launch new research and projects to learn about the virus and to reduce its risks to the public, and of course we had to make an unprecedented fast pivot to online learning.” 

“Drawing on all our strengths — research, practice, policy, advocacy, teaching, communication — we led rapid responses on all fronts, from the laboratory to the community. Our contributions to the early global response were swift and significant. Our Center for Health Security had prepared for this. In partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, they had hosted a tabletop exercise on global pandemic preparedness just months before — they anticipated the difficult decisions that would arise. And when the reality was upon us, they provided quick-turnaround policy reports, advised governments around the world and galvanized the public. Our faculty collaborated on the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center and map dashboard, which became the global go-to source for COVID-19 statistics. And seeing the need for reliable guidance in their home countries, our students created COVIDEO-19, a series of educational videos about the coronavirus in 35 languages,” MacKenzie says. 

Balancing a constant flow of new information and a steady stream of misinformation was a challenge. MacKenzie says, “We launched a COVID-19 Expert Insights site as a hub for the School’s knowledge with original articles, videos, a searchable FAQ database and more. Our COVID-19 — now Expert Insights — newsletter quickly amassed 80,000+ subscribers, and our Global Health NOW newsletter grew to 52,000+ subscribers. Our Center for Health Security was a leading voice and resource from the early days of the pandemic.” 

The Bloomberg School also worked on cutting-edge solutions that directly approached the crisis from every angle, as MacKenzie explains: “Our faculty, with students at their side, studied every aspect of the virus and found ways to reduce harm. In line with our commitment to forge meaningful connections between our School and the city, we collaborated with public health leaders in our home community of Baltimore on projects to provide much-needed services and resources to the local residents. And as always, the work of the Bloomberg School extended around the globe, with our network of researchers and practitioners addressing each new challenge.” 

During challenges faced both on and off campus, MacKenzie recalls the role of leadership in pushing through: “These challenges often felt overwhelming, but again and again we found a way to move forward. I have always believed in collaborative leadership, and I have never valued it more than during this pandemic. Our actions were not the result of just one or two people making decisions, but a team of people representing all facets of the School.” 

“Together, not only did we weather the storm unleashed by the coronavirus, we created a more vibrant culture of collaboration and problem-solving that will further strengthen us for the years ahead and the new challenges we know will come,” she says. 

Two lessons stand out for the School: “Good science isn’t good enough. We learned the hard way that proven medical and nonmedical interventions will not help control a pandemic if governments and communities are reluctant to follow the science. We need to engage with politics — not flee from it. We must foster closer partnerships among scientists who develop the vaccines and medicines, social scientists and communications experts adept at motivating the public to make use of best practices and lifesaving technologies.” 

And finally: “Get to the source of health inequities. We have always known that disparities in housing, education, employment, and other social drivers produce inequities in health, but the pandemic cast a bright spotlight on this reality. We have seen yet again how unevenly the best health outcomes are spread across races and ethnicities and between the haves and have-nots. If we are to advance health in this country, we must advance equity and social justice.”

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