171: Protecting Public Health Authority

Dr. Marcus Plescia, ASTHO’s Chief Medical Officer, defends public health authority after a recent federal court ruling tossed the requirement for masks on public transportation; Dr. Harry Chen, Vermont’s former health commissioner, discusses...

Spotify podcast player badge
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Amazon Music podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge

Dr. Marcus Plescia, ASTHO’s Chief Medical Officer, defends public health authority after a recent federal court ruling tossed the requirement for masks on public transportation; Dr. Harry Chen, Vermont’s former health commissioner, discusses President Biden’s comments on mental health during his State of the Union speech earlier this year; ASTHO publishes a new Leadership Trailblazer Spotlight article on Dr. Karen DeSalvo, Google’s Chief Medical Officer; and ASTHO announces new sponsors for its TechXpo set for May 10-11 online.

AMA Conversation with ASTHO CMO, Dr. Marcus Plescia

ASTHO Blog Article: Leadership Trailblazer Spotlight – Karen DeSalvo, Chief Health Officer of Google

ASTHO Webpage: Public Health TechXpo

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Wednesday, May 4, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

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


The recent federal court ruling tossing the requirement for masks on public transportation sets a worrisome precedent that could impact public health work across the country.

ASTHO’s chief medical officer Dr. Marcus Plescia defended public health authority in a recent conversation with the American Medical Association. He said the mask ruling could hamper other work, like the daily effort to keep restaurants safe for customers.


If you have a restaurant that has a gastrointestinal infection degrees running rampant in it, that restaurant either needs to close or the public health system needs to be able to step in and close it. I don't think anybody would disagree with that.

But those are the kinds of things some of these decisions, some of these state legislative laws, you know, even the issue with the mask mandate—it's not so much the mask mandate, it's the precedent that's getting set.


Watch the full interview using the link in the show notes.


Mental health got a boost when President Biden talked about it during his State of the Union speech earlier this year.

For Dr. Harry Chen, former health commissioner in Vermont, the president's comments come at a critical time. He tells us why in today's morning conversation.

How did you feel when the president used his bully pulpit at the State of the Union to call attention to this crisis?


I would certainly applaud stating it as an issue that needs to be addressed here in the U.S. I think it really continues with what the surgeon general said in December, calling attention to the crisis in youth mental health. So, I think it's great.

We have a lot of work to do. There's been a tremendous decline in the mental wellness in America—especially in our youth—related to the disruption of the pandemic and all the losses that go along with that of normal routine and uncertainty. And I think we have a lot of work to do to address it.


By mentioning mental health at the State of the Union, does that make it more of a mainstream conversation now?


Oh, absolutely. I think the more we talk about it, the less stigma associated with it. And I think we've seen that so much so vividly with opiate addiction and substance misuse that I think mental health is certainly not far behind there.

And I think that part of the solution really comes to accepting that it is an issue, accepting that we have a responsibility as a healthcare system and as a public health system to deal with it, and to de-stigmatize it with things like mental health parity, improved workforce, improved care, and then, importantly, prevention.

Because we can't all deal with it in the downstream fashion. We have to work upstream, working on prevention with the things that we know that work and build resilience in our adults, and especially our children.


Your colleagues around the country listen to this newscast every day. What do they need to do now?


I think it's easy to think about workforce as a huge topic. We've seen that whether it be in long term care in healthcare, but I also think we need to think about it in mental health and substance abuse treatment.

So, workforce—I think we have to improve our systems, we have to really accentuate mental health parity, and say that we really mean it, it’not just in name only. And then, I think we have to start taking out our toolkit of prevention to things that really we know work, especially with in terms of social connection, in terms of learning, playing, sleeping, diet, and exercise. Because we actually have studies that show that during that pandemic, youth who slept better, who exercised, and who had better parental relationships ended up in a better place in terms of their mental health.


Coming back to the president's remarks quickly, how can the words of any president impact this work?


I mean, if nothing else, I think it's very clear that we need leadership to actually move this forward so it's just not swept under the rug like we have for many years. So, we need leadership from the president, we need leadership from state health officials, we need leadership from substance abuse and mental health agencies in every state, and the surgeon general.

And all together if we do it, I think we have the evidence and the knowledge on what we need to do. We just have to have the political will and the resources to do it.



Also today, learn how Dr. Karen DeSalvo’s college job working in public health led to a career that today has her working as Google's chief medical officer. The story is in a new ASTHO Leadership Trailblazer Spotlight article. Read more about her journey using the link in the show notes.


Finally this morning, there's still time to sign up for ASTHO’s Public Health TechXpo. The event is planned for May 10 and 11th.

The agenda includes several leaders in the space talking about tech and the future of public health. You can also meet sponsors like VCI and the Smart Healthcare Framework. The event is online and free to most people. Sign up using 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 LinkedIn, we'd love a shout out.

That'll do it for today's news cast. 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.

Harry Chen MD

Former Health Commissioner, Vermont Department of Health

Marcus Plescia MD MPH

Chief Medical Officer, ASTHO