Vol. 1, No. 1

Population Healthy Special Editions: Coronavirus Pandemic

Population Healthy Special Editions: Coronavirus Pandemic (University of Michigan School of Public Health) originally covered a variety of public health topics, but is now focused on the pandemic in an ambitious “special edition.” Currently three new 5–10-minute episodes are produced every week to unpack public health issues from multiple perspectives, including the scientific (what goes into creating a COVIDd-19 vaccine? How are infections traced?) and the social (why is the disease hurting the most vulnerable? How did Detroit become a hotspot, and what are its citizens doing to respond?). The podcast does not delve into political or economic aspects of the pandemic, but rather stays focused on population health issues.

Drawing on the University of Michigan’s “community of experts” within the School of Public Health, the podcast aims to provide information to help people respond to the challenges of the pandemic with solid information. From the first episode, the tone established is one of reassurance. Listeners will not only learn about the current pandemic, but will come away with a basic understanding of public health issues: applying epidemiology to local healthcare practices or the basic science of health at the community level. There is a special focus on Michigan, as may be expected from a land grant university, but the information provided is widely applicable. 

Overall the production is nicely done, integrating introductory background knowledge into interviews. There’s a good variety of expertise on display to illustrate the contours of public health as a discipline. While the podcast may lack the drama and urgency of shows more engaged with the unfolding political response to the crisis, it offers good information and encouragement to listeners to respond in ways that will keep us informed and healthy.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. Though the “community of experts” is limited to the university’s faculty, each brings their knowledge to bear on the subject without being overwhelming.

Host: 4 of 5. There is no intrusive “star” hosting the show, but the host does a good job of weaving together background information with interviews. 

Production: 4 of 5. In a few cases the sound quality is not excellent, but not in a way that detracts from the information provided. The editing is tight and keeps the flow going nicely.

Storytelling: 3 of 5. To be fair, the material isn’t really presented in the form of stories—but the explanation of ideas is handled well, rather like a good university lecture boiled down to interesting and informative key points. 

Perspective: 4 of 5. The contribution this podcast makes is the focus on public health concepts applied to the crisis, which makes it informative but also reassuring.

Action-Oriented: 4 of 5. As a form of outreach to the community, the experts who contribute to this podcast do a good job of relating their knowledge to what individuals should know and can do to get through the crisis. 

Overall Rating: 4 of 5.

Vol. 1, No. 1


Epidemic (Just Human Productions) releases a new 25-30-minute episode every week. The show’s hosts are Dr. Celine Gounder, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine who is an expert at infectious disease and epidemiologist, and Ron Klain, who has long worked in government and coordinated the United States response to Ebola during President Obama’s administration. Just Human Productions is a non-profit organization that strives “to change the way people think about health and social justice” with storytelling that pairs evidence-based, solutions-oriented journalism with human stories. Previous podcasts tackled subjects like youth and mental health and gun violence in America.

The focus in this podcast is on how the United States is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, covering policy decisions (should WHO have moved faster to declare a pandemic?), medical science (what does “airborne” really mean?), and social justice issues (how does a history of racism influence who gets sick? How are the failures of our healthcare system affecting the virus’s impact?) The podcast intends to help people understand what they can do to protect themselves and their communities and examine how the government is responding. 

The two hosts invite a good selection of guests who are well-qualified to speak to the thematic issues of each 25-30 minute episode. The production values are strong, and the variety of topics keeps it interesting. 

The podcast series began in late February. Each episode has a transcription available at the podcast’s website, which is helpful—but they do not include a broadcast date, which is a drawback given how quickly events unfold and what we know changes.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. The range of subjects covered is wide, but recruiting interesting experts as guests gives the podcast a valuably wide perspective on the crisis.

Host: 5 of 5. Both hosts have an engaging vocal presence and do a good job of introducting and discussing topics with their guests. 

Production: 5 of 5. Good sound quality, editing, and pacing.

Storytelling: 5 of 5. Though the Q & A format could become dull, the choice of guests and the well-paced, well-chosen questions keep it engaging.

Perspective: 4 of 5. It may be hard to find new things to tell an audience inundated by COVID-19 news, but this podcast does a good job of exploring a wide variety of angles, finding depth and nuance. 

Action-Oriented: 4 of 5. Though the focus is on the bigger picture – how is the government responding, and what does that mean for the public? the episodes conclude with questions phoned in by listeners that address what individuals should do to protect themselves and their families. 

Overall Rating: 4.75 of 5.

Vol. 1, No. 1

Columbia Public Health Now

Columbia Public Health Now is a podcast from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health which is currently focused on providing trustworthy scientific information about COVID-19. The host, Maria Andriella O’Brien, received both her MBA and MPH in Epidemiology from Columbia University and is now the deputy chief of staff at the School of Public Health. In each episode, she chooses an issue related to the virus—where did it come from? How are scientists studying it? What have we learned from past epidemics?—and interviews a faculty expert who can provide solid information for the general public. 

The production quality is good, though the scripted Q & A format makes for a dry listening experience. The emphasis is on providing accurate scientific information without spin in the belief that the public will be safer if well-informed.

Fact-based: 5 of 5. This podcast is very much about the facts, seeking experts on the Columbia faculty to speak to the crisis from a scientific perspective.

Host: 2 of 5. Unfortunately the podcast sounds overly scripted, as if the host is reading the questions for guests without much animation or warmth, and that detracts from its listenability. 

Production: 4 of 5.

Storytelling: 3 of 5. The Q & A format tends to make each episode sound very similar and a bit dry.

Perspective: 3 of 5.

Action-Oriented: 3 of 5. “Listen to the experts!” might be the action this podcast advocates. Respect science. Not a bad message, just not enormously inspiring.

Overall Rating: 3 of 5.