We’re public health experts. We need to do a better job of talking to conservatives.

Our credibility was nonetheless damaged by what seemed to be double standards. There’s a difference between trying to reduce harm wherever people are gathering during a pandemic, no matter their cause, and deciding that one cause is worth more risk than another. Americans need to know that public health professionals will not allow our political views regarding the second question to color our enthusiasm to engage the first set of challenges.

We cannot allow the public health enterprise to become estranged from conservative America. We can do better, starting with a reaffirmation that our shared values are more important than what sets us apart. No one wants their parents or grandparents to become sick from covid-19. Diabetes, substance-use disorders and cancer strike across every political line. The public health watchwords to do “nothing about us without us” apply just as surely within conservative religious communities as they do anywhere else.

We can also learn from prior successful public health efforts. Politicians from President Trump to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have collaborated to address the opioid epidemic through efforts such as the Heal Initiative and the 2018 Support Act — measures that were wisely kept separate from more politically polarizing public health and health policy efforts. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher embraced syringe exchange, saving thousands of lives. George W. Bush’s President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight HIV worldwide, pursued in partnership with Bill Clinton and other Democrats, saved millions of lives.