77: ASTHO Reacts to Winter COVID Strategy

ASTHO leaders react to President Biden’s winter COVID-19 strategy. Dr. Nirav Shah, ASTHO President and Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Marcus Plescia, ASTHO’s Chief Medical Officer, discuss booster shots,...

ASTHO leaders react to President Biden’s winter COVID-19 strategy. Dr. Nirav Shah, ASTHO President and Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Marcus Plescia, ASTHO’s Chief Medical Officer, discuss booster shots, messaging, pharmacy capacity, and at-home tests; and we recognize International Day of Persons with Disabilities today with a story about Felecia Barrow, ASTHO’s Disability and Preparedness Specialist in Alabama, who shares her idea to train National Guard members how to assist people living with disabilities.

The White House webpage: President Biden Announces New Actions to Protect Americans Against the Delta and Omicron Variants as We Battle COVID-19 this Winter

ASTHO YouTube post: Public Health Leaders Discuss Omicron Variant Amid Reported U.S. Case

ASTHO Blog Article: Embedded – One Year Review of Disability and Preparedness Specialists Project

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Friday, December 3rd, 2021. I'm Robert Johnson.

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



Experts say that COVID-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead and this winter, so we need to be ready.


President Biden rolls out his COVID-19 winter strategy as a second case of the Omicron variant is reported, this one in Minnesota. Among the items on the president's to do list: a call to expand access to booster shots by asking pharmacies to add evening and weekend hours so people can more easily get vaccinated; also, insurance companies now will cover the cost of in-home test kits—for those without insurance, the kits will be provided free of charge.


We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion.



ASTHO leaders met with the media to discuss the Omicron variant and the president's plan.

Dr. Nirav Shah, ASTHO's president, says early reports indicate current COVID-19 vaccines most likely will protect against the new variant.


There's encouraging laboratory evidence, but the analysis doesn't stop there. We need to go from the laboratory to the field and do the proper vaccine efficacy studies with the Omicron variant to determine really how much marginal value that booster is adding. We all suspect that it will add significant marginal value, but will it reduce the likelihood of breakthrough cases? That's the question on the table.


On the president's request that pharmacies stay open longer, Dr. Shah, also director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says pharmacy capacity has been a challenge.


Pharmacies particularly, which had been a channel that had been used for vaccinations, have themselves been grappling with staffing challenges. And, at least in the Northeast, have had to cancel appointments as a result of that.


The plan to expand at-home testing as welcomed by public health officials, but ASThO chief medical officer, Dr. MarcuS Plescia, says it'll be tough for agencies to track the virus unless people report their test results.


We need a new social norm: when you test positive, when you're sick, you stay at home; and when you're sick, you let other people that you might have exposed know. We in public health will be glad to help you with that through contact tracing, but that has gotten political; and so, it's fine if you don't want the public health agency to help you with that, that's okay. But then, you have a responsibility to let people know yourself.


The president also announced a new awareness campaign to promote booster shots.

Dr. Shah says the early messaging about boosters was confusing.


If we've learned anything during COVID about messaging, it's that clarity is key, and introducing judgments and discretion will just lead a lot of people not to dig deeper. "Should I? Can I? May I?" It'll just lead them to do nothing.



Finally today, a COVID-19 success story from Alabama where Felecia Barrow has been working since January as an ASTHO disability and preparedness specialist. Her assignment: to help the state make sure people living with disabilities are included in the pandemic response. One of her projects: training National Guard members how to work with the disability community at mass vaccination clinics held earlier this year.


I just asked the question, "Can we have a few minutes on the agenda just to devote to disability awareness," and we called it disability etiquette at the time. And the folks who were setting up the training session said, "Okay, Felecia, we'll give you some time on the agenda to do that." So, I was grateful for that.


Next week, we'll tell you how Felecia's idea helped people get vaccinated, and the impact it made on her student soldiers.

ALso, find a link to a report on the specialist project in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's report.


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Be sure to join us again Monday morning for more ASTHO news and information.

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


Marcus Plescia MD MPH

Chief Medical Officer, ASTHO

Nirav Shah MD JD

Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention; President of ASTHO

Felecia Barrow

Steps Program Coordinator