76: Omicron Variant Now in the U.S.

ASTHO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marcus Plescia says there are more questions than answers regarding the Omicron variant now in the United States; Dr. Plescia writes in a new ASTHO blog article that the pandemic presents an historic opportunity to...

ASTHO Chief Medical Officer Dr. Marcus Plescia says there are more questions than answers regarding the Omicron variant now in the United States; Dr. Plescia writes in a new ASTHO blog article that the pandemic presents an historic opportunity to address health equity in the U.S.; Aika Aluc, MPH, ASTHO’s Senior Analyst for Maternal and Infant Health, examines the many ways states and territories have worked to advance breastfeeding and health equity in a new report; and ASTHO releases details of a new webinar series exploring breastfeeding equity.

CDC website: First Confirmed Case of Omicron Variant Detected in the United States

ASTHO Blog Article: The Historic Opportunity COVID-19 Presents to Address Health Equity

ASTHO Report: Examining State Innovations to Advance Breastfeeding and Health Equity

ASTHO Webinar Series: Fostering Breastfeeding Equity Through Community Engagement


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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, December 2nd, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

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


The Omicron variant is in the United States. The CDC confirmed the first case late yesterday—it's in California, a traveler who returned to the U.S. from South Africa on November 22nd.

ASTHO chief medical officer, Dr. Marcus Plescia, says, right now, there are more questions than answers regarding this latest mutation of the COVID-19 virus.


I think that we're trying to decide what do we do next, and what do we need to do to prepare for whatever might come.

The big challenge for everybody is there's a lot of uncertainty about what this variant really does mean. I mean, there are things about the variant that are concerning that could lead to some very difficult situations for us in our fight against the COVID pandemic, but it's not clear how much of those are going to be born out—so, questions like, you know, is it possible that the vaccine that we've been using won't be quite as effective? I mean, that would be challenging if that's the case.

Although, you know, frankly, it's such an effective vaccine that we could lose a little bit of effectiveness and still be in a very, very good place.


This morning at 11 Eastern, ASTHO leaders will meet with reporters to discuss this development.

Also, President Biden rolls out his COVID-19 winter strategy later today. We'll have coverage of both events on tomorrow's newscast.


The pandemic, for all it's damaged or destroyed, presents a historic opportunity to address health equity in the U.S. Dr. Plescia writes in a new blog article about the positive impact current federal resources could have on equity concerns among underserved communities.

Read his article using the link in the show notes.


Breastfeeding is widely considered the best approach for birthing people and babies, yet racial disparities continue to make it tough for some to begin or continue the process.

ASTHO's Aika Aluc is the lead author on a new report that examines the many ways states and territories have worked to advance breastfeeding and health equity. She talks about it in today's morning conversation.

The report notes that every state, the District of Columbia, even some of the territories have laws that allow breastfeeding wherever a person wants to do that. But you say that's still not enough—there are still some obstacles.

What are those obstacles? What are those issues?


Families can experience many barriers in trying to achieve their breastfeeding goals; and it could look like social norms, it could be restrictive policies and practices—for example, in birthing facilities, even at home or at work. And those particular disparities disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and people of color, and families with lower socioeconomic status.

And so, they could be amongst language and literacy barriers. It could be lack of social support or maybe cultural acceptance in the workplace, or even in the home. Maybe insufficient breastfeeding education or support from healthcare providers, maybe lifestyle choices.

So, really the list is fairly comprehensive.


The report includes a legislative scan that summarizes policies and programs that states and territories have implemented to encourage breastfeeding.

Are there any proposals or laws that are worth noting here?


I think one that is worth noting is, during the 2020 legislative session, Missouri considered four bills related to breastfeeding, one of which would have required the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop a model policy for accommodating breastfeeding students and employees.

During the key informant interview, the respondents from Missouri noted that the bill reaffirms standards in place that were already in the federal law rather than extending additional support or protections. And so, with that being said, the key partners themselves recommended that that particular legislation not move forward and noted that future sponsors will connect with advocates in the community for breastfeeding before drafting future legislation.


What do you hope will be the top takeaway for ASTHO members who read this report?


Top takeaway is there are community members and community advocates who want to continue to support breastfeeding and are really wanting to be at the forefront working with states to better breastfeeding equity and really reduce the breastfeeding disparities that are being experienced. And with that, workforce needs, as far as capacity and critical resources, are important to be highlighted.

Really approaching partnerships and collaborations with the lens and recognizing some of the historical trauma and the barriers to collaborations that exist, and addressing those earlier on; that we can really target sustainability and ensure that these partnerships that are being created are sustainable and create future opportunities to come in.

Recognizing where legislatively breastfeeding support is needed and what can happen at the state level can really be a large part in continuing sort of the multiple pieces and us approaching breastfeeding needs from a comprehensive approach.


ASTHO plans a webinars series about breastfeeding equity.

The first event explores community engagement and breastfeeding support. It's on Monday, December 6th at 3:00 PM Eastern.

Sign up for the webinar and read the full report using the links in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast.


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Be sure to join us 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 day.

Marcus Plescia MD MPH

Chief Medical Officer, ASTHO

Aika Aluc MPH

Senior Analyst, Maternal and Infant Health, ASTHO