160: Variant Fatigue

Dr. Mark Levine, Commissioner of Health at the Vermont Department of Health, explains how the COVID BA.2 sub-variant is being received by people in his state; Caroline Brazeel, ASTHO’s Senior Director for Population Health and Innovation, tells us...

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Dr. Mark Levine, Commissioner of Health at the Vermont Department of Health, explains how the COVID BA.2 sub-variant is being received by people in his state; Caroline Brazeel, ASTHO’s Senior Director for Population Health and Innovation, tells us why it’s important that all public health agencies respond to ASTHO’s 2022 Profile of State and Territorial Public Health; ASTHO publishes a new blog article explaining how some members are building or expanding their community health worker programs; and there’s still time to register for ASTHO’s second annual Public Health Tech Xpo starting three weeks from today, on May 10th.

ASTHO Profile of State and Territorial Public Health

ASTHO Blog Article: States Continue Efforts to Build and Strengthen Community Health Workforce

ASTHO Webpage: Public Health Tech Xpo

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday April 19, 2022. I’m Robert Johnson.

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


Another COVID-19 subvariant is making trouble in some parts of the United States; so, what does that mean for weary public health agencies and communities even more worn out from everything that’s happened the last two years?

Dr. Mark Levine is Vermont’s health commissioner. We asked him about BA.2 in today’s morning conversation.

How serious is the BA.2 variant?


Well, the BA.2 variant has really been regarded as no more serious than the original Omicron variant. However, it is noted to be another 1.4-1.6 times more transmissible. So, what it lacks in increased virulence it makes up for in increased transmissibility.


So, we’ve had a lot of variants since the start of this pandemic and will probably have more. Are people paying attention to this one the way they have the previous iterations? How is that going in Vermont?


You know, I think there’s been a bit of pandemic fatigue like everywhere, and possibly now variant fatigue as well. But the reality is it’s sort of put in front of your face, so it’s hard to ignore it, even though people kind of want to be past it. So, when we started seeing a few more cases in schools again and workplaces—some of them healthcare facilities, but any kind of workplace where actually it was impacting absenteeism rates—suddenly it became more of an issue for people.

And now, it’s so common for people to say casually, “You know, there’s a whole bunch of people I know who have COVID right now.” And it seems like more than any time in the pandemic, they can say that they know someone who has it—even though the person or people they know aren’t that ill, they still have it and are out of the workforce for a number of days, etc.


Do you think this experience with the BA.2 variant is a preview of the new normal? Learning to live with COVID and all of its curveballs and unexpected tricks it keeps throwing at us?


It has been a preview. People kind of refer to that “endemic” word all the time. I don’t like that so much because it has E-N-D in it and people think that means it’s over. And the reality is it just means we’re learning a new relationship with it, as you described it, with this virus.

But this is a little more than people bargained for in that new relationship. They really are expecting quieter times than this. So my hope is, as we come out of the winter and the weather gets warmer and people are gathering less indoors, that we will see this sort of evaporate away. And there will be a period of time, hopefully til the next fall or winter, when things are quite quiet on the COVID front.

But this is sort of hastening our getting to that point in time, because so many in the population are getting positive tests, even if they’re not very ill, so that the virus is still having an impact on their life.



ASTHO is now collecting member responses to the 2022 Profile of State and Territorial Public Health. Jurisdictions have until August 5th to complete the survey.

ASTHO’s Caroline Brazeel explains why it’s important for everyone to respond.


This is the only data set that we have in the nation that captures the number of employees that work in the state and island jurisdiction agencies. It’s the only data set that we have that consistently captures what falls under those public health jurisdictions. It’s also the only data set that captures the financial picture of public health.

And so, I think everyone can understand why, particularly at this moment in public health’s history, it’s critical to be able to capture that information and communicate it effectively.


The last survey was done in 2019. Brazeel says the new report, coupled with the data gathered more than two years ago, will offer users a comparison of public health before and after the pandemic. You can see the 2019 data by clicking the link in the show notes.  


Also, several ASTHO members are thinking of ways to build their community health worker programs. Some are creating certification guidelines, others are looking for ways to use Medicaid dollars to finance plans. Get more ideas to build your own program in a new ASTHO blog article available now using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, ASTHO’s second Public Health TechXpo starts three weeks from today. Don’t miss your chance to hear ASTHO CEO Mike Fraser and Washington Post national health reporter Lena Sun discuss the future of healthcare in America. It’s one of several panels on the agenda.

There’s also plenty of opportunity to learn about the newest technology available to make your job easier and more effective.

The event is online May 10th and 11th. Register with the link in the show notes.


Before we go, we want to remind you to follow the show on your podcast app. And if you’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or even LinkedIn, we’d love a shoutout.


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.

Caroline Brazeel MPH

Senior Director, Population Health and Innovation, ASTHO

Mark Levine MD

Commissioner of Health, Vermont Department of Health