Minnesota’s Andy Slavitt both trusted voice, social media target during COVID-19 pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, Andy Slavitt has briefed White House officials and has spoken with governors in all 50 states. He tweets out up-to-date information in real-time to his half a million followers and created a podcast to further connect people to what he sees as vital information in the fight against COVID-19.

And he’s doing this all from his home in Edina.

"What I try to do is make sure information is presented in a way where people understand that this is the best information people have at the time," Slavitt said during a recent interview.

Over the past six months, the former head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has become both a trusted resource for up-to-date information on the virus and a prime target for criticism.

For years, Slavitt sat at the intersection between the medical community and the officials who shape policy. In 2013, the then-health care executive led the revamp of Healthcare.gov and later was appointed to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicare under President Barrack Obama from 2015 to 2017.

Back in Minnesota, when cases of COVID-19 started to appear in the United States, Slavitt launched a nationwide #StayHome campaign on social media. Backed by more than two dozen infectious disease experts and officials on both sides of the aisle, Slavitt made his home into a makeshift command center.

"I’m in a unique position where when I pick up the phone, anyone will call me back," he said. "I do get access to a lot of information, but I have to be careful. People have to be careful, to know where that comes from."

Early in the pandemic, Slavitt fielded criticism for his aggressive measures to curb the spread of the virus. He’s also a regular target on social media from people who accuse him of filtering information through his political lens, given his affiliation with the Democratic party.

"I would be misleading people if I didn’t acknowledge my own bias," Slavitt said when questioned on that stance. "I tell people my bias based on the evidence that I’ve seen. I’m happy to be a target if that’s what people need."

Slavitt often addresses those issues, and sometimes his detractors, on his Twitter feed.

"Some days, I’ll tweet about some of the numbers and what the numbers show, some days I’ll tweet about a controversial topic or an interesting topic that’s in the media," he said. "I try to provide, oddly enough, a little bit of depth, which you can do if you string some tweets together."

Slavitt came up with another way to dive into topics with his followers. With the help of his 18-year-old son, Zach, he created a podcast in March. His wife, Lana, came up with the title "In the Bubble with Andy Slavitt."

"What we needed was what I call ‘50% Winston Churchill, 50% Fred Rogers,’" Slavitt said, while adding he also includes a healthy amount of "dad jokes" for his listeners.

From his dining room table, Slavitt speaks with senators and governors, scientists and actors, Republicans and Democrats on a wide range of topics — from vaccine-related issues making headlines to the nomination of a new supreme court justice.

"If I’m doing things, if I’m helping, if I feel like I’m getting something done, I feel much better," he said.