156: STD Awareness

Jessica Baggett, ASTHO’s Director of COVID-19 Response, explains the strategies included in ASTHO’s new COVID-19 management plan; Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, says COVID-19 has led to an...

Jessica Baggett, ASTHO’s Director of COVID-19 Response, explains the strategies included in ASTHO’s new COVID-19 management plan; Dr. John Hellerstedt, Commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, says COVID-19 has led to an uptick in congenital syphilis; ASTHO shares a new blog article detailing new USDA school lunch standards; and ASTHO reports how several members have used GIS and data visualization to support their public health work.

ASTHO News Release: ASTHO Unveils Plan to Support Sustained Management of COVID-19 Response

ASTHO Report: Sustained Management of COVID-19

CDC Webpage: STD Awareness Week

ASTHO Blog Article: Changes to School Nutrition Programs Helping Curb Pandemic-Related Impacts

ASTHO Report: Integrating Environmental Health and Electronic Health Information Using GIS Tools

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday April 13, 2022. I’m Robert Johnson.

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


ASTHO has developed a new strategy to help public health jurisdictions as they look to evolve their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It recognizes the needs to pivot from an emergency posture to a sustained management approach to the virus and its variants. Jessica Baggett directs ASTHO’s COVID-19 response. In today’s morning conversation, she details the strategies included in the report.

The first strategy is entitled “Prepare for Future Surges.” It sounds simple, but what does it mean?


So, this is all about preparing for what may come, whether that be a new variant or a significant increase in cases. We know that COVID vaccines and boosters are a critical tool to prevent severe illness from COVID-19, so the work to engage providers and communities should continue.

We also need to prepare our healthcare systems by ensuring that they have the plans, the staffing, and the supplies to support a potential surge. And, as we’ve seen over the last few months, many jurisdictions have relaxed their mitigation measures and no longer have some of the emergency powers and authority that they did early on in the pandemic. So, understanding which actions are still in place, what may need to be reauthorized, and then communicating any potential gaps is critical before the next possible surge.


The next has to do with making public health infrastructure stronger. Why is that important in the transition?


Well, we’ve learned so much of the last two and a half years. So, this section of the document focuses on building and maintaining that infrastructure.

So, this includes strategies like improving our data systems so that we have access to timely information to make public health policy decisions.

This also includes sustaining some of the disease investigation and testing capacity that will that ensure our systems are operational and can detect any changes or conditions and identify outbreaks. And this also includes our laboratory systems and emerging strategies like wastewater surveillance.

And we absolutely know that the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged our public health workforce in unprecedented ways. So, during this time, we should focus a significant effort to address workforce burnout, resiliency, and morale among our workforce.


The last strategy would have us focus on protection of high-risk groups. How is that achieved in this next phase of COVID-19?


High-risk groups have been a focus throughout the response and should continue to be. Residents and staff of long-term care facilities and other congregate settings have been disproportionately burdened and are highly vulnerable to COVID-19. We also know the risk of severe COVID-19 is higher for people living with disabilities, so continued work should be done to ensure that everyone is represented in our COVID-19 plans.

And there’s also work that can be done to protect students, teachers, and staff in school settings to ensure that kids continue to have access to in-person education. So, the Biden administration recently launched an effort to improve ventilation and reduce the spread of COVID-19 in buildings, and there are resources linked in this document.


You can read the full report using the link in the show notes.


Many health concerns have gotten worse during the pandemic. Texas health commissioner, Dr. John Hellerstedt, says one of those is on the rise in the Lone Star State.


We see trends here in Texas having increases in the number of identified cases of congenital syphilis. We know that that’s happening across the United States, and it does seem to coincide with COVID-19 in the sense that access to routine care was definitely disrupted because of the pandemic. Some women were going to be hesitant to go into the clinics, and the clinics themselves were stressed by COVID-19.


Hellerstedt speaking with us during STD Awareness Week. The CDC has a campaign to reduce stigma associated with STDs and provide people with the tools they need to address them.

Find the link to the campaign in the show notes.


Also new today, USDA standards for school lunches taking effect July 1st. ASTHO has a blog article with details about the updated standards for milk, whole grains, and sodium. The changes will impact lunches being served beginning in the fall.

There’s a link to the article in the show notes.


Finally this morning, several ASTHO members have used GIS and data visualization to support their public health work. You can find out how they did it in a new ASTHO brief, now online. The report includes an example of how the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia deployed GIS tools to help treat children with asthma.

You can find that link in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to follow the show—that way, you’ll never miss a single report. Also, don’t forget to recommend the daily on your social media channels.


That’ll do it for today’s newscast. We’re 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.

Jessica Baggett MPH

Director, COVID-19 Response, ASTHO

John Hellerstedt MD

Commissioner, Texas Department of State Health Services