67: Polling the Pandemic

The Rockefeller Foundation releases its 5th survey of Americans’ attitudes about the pandemic response; Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, says every public health agency should update its Healthy People...

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The Rockefeller Foundation releases its 5th survey of Americans’ attitudes about the pandemic response; Dr. Nicole Alexander Scott, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, says every public health agency should update its Healthy People 2030 plan to reflect the pandemic’s impact on measurable goals; ASTHO and the Center for Health Care Strategies offer a report explaining how public health departments can partner with Medicaid to advance health equity goals; and ASTHO’s Maggie Davis shares her “thankful note” in advance of Public Health Thank You Day on November 22nd.

The Rockefeller Foundation website: COVID Complications – Insights and Guidance on Ongoing Pandemic Communication

Healthy People 2030 webpage: ODPHP’s COVID-19 Custom List

Center for Health Care Strategies webpage: Cross-Agency Partnerships for Health Equity – Understanding Opportunities Across Medicaid and Public Health Agencies

APHA webpage: Public Health Thank You Day

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Monday, November 15th, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

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


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, public health teams have worked hard to find the words that would convince audiences to wear masks, keep their distance, and get vaccinated.

Since September of last year, the Rockefeller Foundation has polled American's attitudes toward the response. The latest results of that work are available now.

Carrie Schum helped lead the project for the foundation. She talks about the most recent findings in today's morning conversation.

Thinking about that research, what are your top three takeaways from this work?


Yeah, the biggest one is most people are doing the right thing most of the time, and that's been consistent for over a year. You know, we've been asking, tracking questions about all of the things that we've been asking people to do—wearing masks, staying home, more social distancing, participating in testing and contact tracing—and most people have been doing it.

And what was really interesting in this wave is we did see a decline in May, right? May was like the height of optimism around this pandemic—the vaccines were out, you were seeing case numbers drop, people were starting to take their masks off, be out more socially. And what was fascinating was, by September, it had all gone right back up—you know, the Delta variant was here and people just sort of took their toolkit back out and started using it again.

So, that was one really big thing that you don't hear about a lot. And it makes sense—in public health, we're always trying to get everybody to do the right thing and so we focus on the outliers. But really, a lot of people have been doing the right game for a very long time.

I think the second thing was just how little is being done in schools. You know, there's been this huge debate about school reopening, a lot of controversy in some places about what's being required. But a quarter of parents actually have no idea what their school is doing, and 10% said their school is doing nothing, and even among all of the different interventions that are being recommended, under 50% of parents chose any of them. So, mask wearing was by far the highest percentage, but it was under 50% of people saying my kids have, or there's mandatory masking. Increased social distancing was around that level, but a little bit lower.

And then I think the third thing, which is really important for you all, is that full set of public health guidance and interventions matter. You know, there's been such a focus on vaccination and such a focus on who wants to be vaccinated and who doesn't want to be vaccinated, but people are really open to a lot of these things.


What about red flags? Did any of those pop up in these findings?


Yeah, there are a couple things. There's a big gap—and we've seen it now play out—of intent to get children vaccinated. There was a big drop in that from May when it was a theoretical to September when it was becoming much more reality, almost a 10-point decline in parents. It was about 45% in May, and about 36% in September of people saying, "I intend to have my child vaccinated." And now you see that play out, right? You've seen that now with all the—now that some kids can get it, there's a lot of talk about parents who aren't sure that it's really the right thing for their kid.

I think the other thing is that gap between reality and what you see in the news. And public health people are often local. I think that idea of trust, what you see locally and act on it rather than what you may see in the national news, is really important that connection with people on the ground in your community, what you're hearing from real people, and sort of measuring your response to that rather than this sort of broad media narrative.


This is the fifth time the Rockefeller Foundation has surveyed people about their pandemic views.


The Healthy People 2030 report has been updated to help public health agencies match the document's objectives to their pandemic needs.

Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott says her Rhode Island Department of Health has made adjustments to its plan and urges others to do it too.


It's critical that all public health agencies go through a process like this, of identifying their long-term and short-term goals and objectives and have the ability to compare across exchange best practices. These are the values that you build to set the culture around an organization, such as a public health agency.


If you've not seen it already, the Healthy People 2030 website includes a page that allows you to match many of its 355 core objectives to specific pandemic deliverables.


Also today, a new report co-authored by ASTHO and the Center for Health Care Strategies tells us how public health departments can partner with Medicaid to advance health equity goals.

The article draws on research and interviews with states to provide recommendations that could be useful to agencies hoping to improve Medicaid partnering opportunities.


Finally, this morning, we get a thankful note from ASTHO's Maggie Davis as we get ready to celebrate Public Health Thank You Day next Monday, November 22nd.


I am very thankful that in the pandemic I've developed closer friendships with some of my friends here as an adult than I had beforehand. You find your pod and they become like a second family.



Remember every story in this newscast has a link to follow for more information—those can be found in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's report.


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Join us here again tomorrow morning for more ASTHO news and information.

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

Carrie Schum

Executive Vice President, Hattaway Communications

Nicole Alexander-Scott MD MPH

Director of the Rhode Island Department of Health