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White House COVID-19 Coordinator Ashish Jha Joins AARP Tele-Town Hall

En español | White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha warned on an AARP tele-town hall last week that health officials are bracing for another difficult couple of months. “In each of the last two winters, we’ve seen a surge of infection,” he said, while noting that “we are in a much better place than we’ve been in previous winters” given the new bivalent vaccines and boosters that better target new strains of COVID.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve hosted similar tele-town hall events, hearing from health officials and experts and giving listeners the chance to dial in and ask questions. Our most recent event focused largely on the COVID-19 pandemic’s toll on Americans’ mental health. Families and loved ones have been isolated from one another, millions have fallen ill and more than 1 million have died. The burden has been especially heavy for older adults, who are at disproportionate risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19. Seven in 10 older adults say they’ve had increased feelings of anxiety, sadness or depression because of COVID, according to an AARP report published last year.

Victor Strecher, director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan, said on the call that  the pandemic’s mental health toll is “kind of expected” given the circumstances.

But he also discussed the concept of “post-traumatic growth,” encouraging older adults to take stock of how they’ve grown and skills they’ve developed through the pandemic. “What strengths have you developed as a result of adversity? How has this experience made you stronger?” he asked, also encouraging listeners to make a list of what and who matters to them most to help find a greater sense of purpose and direction.

Jha, meanwhile, stressed the importance of getting a bivalent booster heading into the winter months. “If you’re 12 or older, you need to get this updated COVID-19 vaccine this fall,” he said. “It’s going to make a big difference as we head into the cold months.”

Listen to the full tele-town hall.

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