Healthline Town Hall: Lesley Stahl, Alyssa Milano, and D.L. Hughley on Surviving COVID-19

Healthline Editor in Chief Erin Petersen talks with comedian D.L. Hughley about his experience with COVID-19.

Celebrities, news anchors, and public health workers joined Healthline’s live town hall on March 11 to reflect on the 1-year…

Healthline Editor in Chief Erin Petersen talks with comedian D.L. Hughley about his experience with COVID-19.
  • Celebrities, news anchors, and public health workers joined Healthline’s live town hall on March 11 to reflect on the 1-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The pandemic has exposed racial inequities and widespread mistrust in our healthcare system.
  • It’s become clear that people need trusted members in their communities who can be advocates for their health.

In a live town hall hosted by Healthline on Thursday, March 11, a group of news anchors, celebrities, and public health workers gathered to reflect on the 1-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The conversation, which was moderated by Erin Peterson, editor in chief of Healthline and Dr. Elaine Hanh Le, chief medical officer of Healthline, discussed how life has changed since the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020. 

Actor and activist Alyssa Milano, CBS “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl, comedian D.L. Hughley, Broadway singer Brian Stokes Mitchell, and public health professionals Paula Green-Smith and Philip Hamilton participated. 

There have been more than 29 million diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the United States and more than 529,000 Americans have died since the virus started to spread widely in the United States last March.

The pandemic has exposed racial inequities and widespread mistrust in our healthcare system. And though the media has played a powerful role in educating people about the virus, it’s become glaringly clear that people need trusted members in their communities who can be advocates for their health. 

Here's what we’ve learned over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The role of media in the pandemic 

“60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl said the media has played an important role throughout the pandemic, but was met with fading faith and trust. 

Stahl said she’s not convinced a campaign or television program would have the power to influence people who are already skeptical about COVID-19 and vaccines. 

“People are not going where they don't agree,” Stahl said, noting that people tend to go on websites that feature information they already agree with. 

Stahl thinks a targeted, localized approach can help educate communities about the virus and the vaccines. 

“It has to be someone local in people’s lives that they trust — preachers, ministers, priests,” Stahl said.

When asked what she’s hopeful about, Stahl said it’s getting kids back in school. She hopes teachers can and will be prioritized for vaccinations so schools can open up safely. 

“It’s the highest priority. I can’t think of anything more important nationwide right now,” Stahl said. 

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Battling COVID-19 and exposing inequities 

Comedian and author D.L. Hughley joined the live event to talk about his experience with COVID-19.

Hughley developed COVID-19 in 2020 and was diagnosed after he passed out while performing in Nashville, Tennessee.

The comedian was rushed to a hospital where he was diagnosed with COVID-19. 

“It was terrible, to say the least,” Hughley said.

Hughley is now one of the millions of Americans who continued to experience symptoms after recovering from the disease. 

“I’d be what they would determine a long hauler,” Hughley said. He frequently felt fatigued and dizzy, and his blood pressure would drop sporadically. 

Hughley also spoke about the racial inequities the pandemic has highlighted. 

He pointed out that during the pandemic, the life expectancy in America dropped by a year. But, Black people’s life expectancy dropped by 3 years.

“This thing is literally taking years off our lives collectively,” Hughley said.

COVID-19 decimated marginalized communities, Hughley said, and there continues to be a lot of mistrust in the medical field. 

Moving forward, healthcare providers and health officials will need to earn the trust of the communities whose health has historically not been prioritized. 

An irregular case of COVID-19

Though COVID-19 is a respiratory virus, it doesn’t always cause the most talked about symptoms like high fever or cough. 

Actor and activist Alyssa Milano learned that the hard way through her experience with COVID-19. 

Milano experienced stomach symptoms. She also developed full body pain, chest aches, and a low grade fever.

She then had trouble breathing. 

But even though she was tested two times, she received negative test results. 

Eventually, Milano got an antibody test, which revealed she had the antibodies 4 months after developing symptoms. 

Milano said the virus made her aware of how difficult the situation would be for people without easy access to healthcare.

“How are people doing this that don’t have access to a concierge doctor or a nebulizer in the house?” Milano said. 

Milano wants people to understand that COVID-19 is not a hoax — and it’s not like the flu or a cold. 

This was “something that attacked every part of my body,” Milano said. 

Healthline Editor in Chief Erin Peterson talks with actor and activist Alyssa Milano

Lifting up the Black community 

Paula Green-Smith and her husband Philip Hamilton are public health executives at Urban Health Resource in Detroit, Michigan. 

Throughout the pandemic, they’ve borne witness to the inequitable toll COVID-19 has taken on the Black community. 

“Our community was hit so hard,” Green-Smith said. “We didn’t have a week until probably August where we didn’t hear of someone, whether it was a relative or someone we knew personally, to pass.” 

So much misinformation has spread throughout the pandemic. On top of that, widespread mistrust in the healthcare system continues to persist, stemming from the Tuskegee Experiment to the Henrietta Lacks story

The pandemic compounded “that mistrust in our community,” Green-Smith. 

Green-Smith added that it’s crucial to have trusted messengers in communities that people can rely on and listen to. 

Dr. Elaine Hanh Le, Healthline Media Chief Medical Officer, spoke with Paula Green-Smith and her husband Philip Hamilton of the Urban Health Resource.

The bottom line

Celebrities, news anchors, and public health workers joined Healthline’s live town hall on March 11 to reflect on the 1-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has exposed racial inequities and widespread mistrust in our healthcare system. And though the media has played a powerful role in educating people about the virus, it’s become clear that people need trusted members in their communities who can be advocates for their health.