By: Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of American Lung Association; 

Defeating this pandemic, together

– The new face of lung disease is the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), resulting in a pandemic that has transformed life as we know it. The disease continues to spread and has already sickened more than a million Americans and taken more Americans’ lives in under three months than lost in nearly two decades of the Vietnam War.

The situation is serious, but if we come together as a nation, we can save more lives. This will mean fully embracing public health guidance from local public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and investing in research to combat both COVID-19 and future respiratory virus outbreaks. I know we can come together to defeat this pandemic because we’ve done it before.

Just as the American Lung Association has successfully guided the nation through many public health crises that targeted the lungs, such as tuberculosis, the 1918 Flu Pandemic, H1N1, MERS and SARS, we will use our proven model of education, advocacy and research to ensure our nation can successfully face today’s pandemic, protecting lung health from the ravages of COVID-19 and saving as many lives as possible.

Anyone who breathes is at risk of contracting COVID-19, but some Americans are at higher risk for experiencing more severe complications from this disease. Those that fall under this category include the more than 36 million people in the U.S. living with lung disease such as asthma and COPD, as well as older adults and those who are immunocompromised, living with diabetes or liver disease. Also of note, the CDC found black people were disproportionately hospitalized as a result of COVID-19, and both Hispanic and black people had a substantially higher death rate than white or Asian people.

Efforts to slow the spread of the disease is critical to both protect these individuals from contracting COVID-19 and to ensure that hospitals have the capacity to care for those with COVID-19 or other chronic conditions. Aside from this, the Lung Association encourages those with chronic lung diseases like asthma and COPD to work with their healthcare provider to control their symptoms in an effort to reduce the risk of a flare-up that results in an ER visit or hospitalization. Considering options such as telehealth is an important consideration for patients, and communication with your healthcare provider is key.

To support all Americans, including those with lung disease, the American Lung Association is sharing science-based information, resources and support through, the Lung Helpline (1-800-LUNGUSA) – staffed with respiratory experts – as well as investments in early COVID-19 research.

The Lung Association is taking action with a $25 million initiative to end COVID-19 and defend against future respiratory virus pandemics. The COVID-19 Action Initiative will be used to expand the Lung Association’s ongoing respiratory research program, enhance key public health measures and establish an advanced network to stop future respiratory virus pandemics.

We are committed to making this investment. However, we can’t do this alone. Our organization was founded by citizens concerned about the public health threat of the day – tuberculosis. Those citizens came together to raise funding for critical research and they ultimately defeated the tuberculosis epidemic in the U.S. Today, we’re asking everyone to come together again to address COVID-19 and future respiratory viruses by supporting the COVID-19 Action Initiative.

With the support and donations of generous Americans, we can stand together and face the challenges to lung health of today and tomorrow. As long as anyone struggles to breathe freely, the American Lung Association will be there to advance our mission with expertise and by taking bold actions to realize our vision of a world free of lung disease.

Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of American Lung Association

Harold Wimmer is the National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, carrying out the strategic framework and policies established by the National Volunteer Board of Directors. Fostering a culture of innovation and a distinct mission-first approach, Harold directs the executive operations of the Association to deliver high impact services and initiatives to improve the lung health of Americans and prevent lung disease.

Harold has dedicated his life to improving the lung health of all Americans. His work with the American Lung Association began in 1978, and he became National President and CEO in February 2013. The organization serves as the nation’s premier resource for lung health, and under his leadership has evolved to meet emerging, urgent lung health issues facing Americans today:

  • Improving the lives of all those living with lung disease by accelerating groundbreaking research and doubling our research investment
  • Increasing awareness of lung cancer and the new availability of lifesaving screening to ensure more eligible Americans are screened
  • Addressing and reducing the youth e-cigarette epidemic
  • Advocating to reduce air pollution and address climate change in part by increasing the use of renewable energy sources and zero- and low-emission hybrid vehicles.

Prior to leading the nationwide organization, Harold served in key executive positions in the American Lung Association in Illinois and the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest. Earning a B.S. in Community Health and an M.S. in Health Administration & Policy from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, he has been an active alumni member at U of I, serving on the Applied Health Sciences Alumni Board. Harold received the 2008 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Illinois, College of Applied Health Sciences.