129: Messaging New COVID-19 Metrics

Dr. Marcus Plescia, ASTHO’s Chief Medical Officer, says public health jurisdictions must have clear messaging when explaining the CDC’s new community-level COVID-19 metrics; Elizabeth Head, Deputy Director for Injury Prevention at the Georgia...

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Dr. Marcus Plescia, ASTHO’s Chief Medical Officer, says public health jurisdictions must have clear messaging when explaining the CDC’s new community-level COVID-19 metrics; Elizabeth Head, Deputy Director for Injury Prevention at the Georgia Department of Public Health, explains the benefits of a collaboration with ASTHO and the Trust for America’s Health; and ASTHO has a blog article about a new public health emergency preparedness academy in Puerto Rico.

ASTHO Blog Article: Embedded – Puerto Rico’s Public Health Emergency Preparedness Academy

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


The CDC's new community-level COVID-19 metrics announced last week will require public health jurisdictions to have clear messaging when explaining this approach and its impact on mask recommendations. ASTHO's chief medical officer Dr. Marcus Plescia tells us why in today's morning conversation.

What's your take on the latest CDC guidance about masking?


Well, we think this new guidance about community-level indicators from CDC is really good and I think will be very, very helpful for states.

You know, one thing I want to point out that I think we need to be careful to message about this, is this isn't just mask guidance. These are community-level indicators that we're going to shift to, to really start looking more at what's the incidence of severe COVID in the community—people who are ending up in the hospital or ended up dying—and we're shifting away from, you know, what are the case counts. Case counts are part of these measures, but there's an attempt to really build in this focus on how much severe disease are we seeing, because that's the thing we want and need to prevent.


The CDC even offers a database that people can visit to check the latest on COVID in their area. Do you think they'll do that?


I don't know if they will, but I think that's one of the charges or challenges that's going to be in front of us now. I mean, in my sense, the idea behind these new community-level indicators is, you know, we're going to move away from mask requirements and other requirements. The idea is that you can see what's going on in your community and make your own decisions about how you're going to act: are you going to put a mask back on, are you going to limit your activities because you're concerned that rates are high?

And I think if things get really bad, you know, if we had another variant that was really problematic, then we would probably have to move towards more of a mandate and requirements system. But I think the intent here is for the public to use this information to make their own decisions. And so, I think as public health professionals, we're going to have to start messaging that idea that, you know, it's up to you and we're giving you information that we hope you will use to decide how you want to act.


How does public health talk about masking if there comes a time when they're required again?


I do think the public health leaders and public health professionals need to be careful in talking about these new community-level indicators; that they make it clear that, you know, we're shifting, but it's not because the pandemic is necessarily over—we all hope it's over and maybe it is—but there's a good chance we'll have further outbreaks, further surges.

And so, I think we need to be clear with the public that, you know, right now these community-level indicators show that we can relax some of the restrictions and some of the activities that we've had in place, but that we're just going to have to see what comes in the future; and that we may have to go back to, you know, putting some of these things back in place, as much as people may not like that. But I think all we can do is prepare them for the fact that this could be something that happens.

I think we need to be careful that we don't immediately jump in and say, "Yeah, you can take off your mask now, but you know, you'll have to put it back on." I mean, that's one of the things people have complained about that, you know, we're constantly looking on the negative side. And I think it's good, we're at a good place and we can relax a little bit and we should enjoy that moment; but at some point, we got to message that this may not be over yet, and we want the public to be prepared for that.



Two state agencies in Georgia are finding new ways to work together thanks to a pilot project with ASTHO and the Trust for America's Health. Last year, the nonprofits partnered with the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Georgia Division of Aging Services to help the two agencies better coordinate their plans on aging and health improvement.

Elizabeth Head was part of Georgia's public health team.


The folks at ASTHO looked for commonalities and differences in the strategies and objectives and goals of those two documents. And then, they walked us through where things were different, where things were somewhat similar, where we were aligned and maybe split off in different directions.

And so, we use that to assess where our experiences were as on-the-ground partners, with where those strategic plans are; and then, to then whittle it back down to order a couple of items that we could do together that aligned with our current plans, and where we might make changes and future plans to continue to align in specific ways.


You can hear more about this unique partnership and the results in a new episode of the Public Health Review podcast, coming soon everywhere you stream audio.


Finally today, Puerto Rico has a new public health emergency preparedness academy. It was the brainchild of Beatriz Vallejo, a full-time disability and preparedness specialist working with the Puerto Rico Department of Health as part of a program supported by ASTHO and the CDC. Find out more about the academy and how it works in a new blog article, available now using the link in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We are back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Elizabeth Head MPH

Deputy Director, Injury Prevention, Georgia Department of Public Health

Marcus Plescia MD MPH

Chief Medical Officer, ASTHO