90: Helping Kids Hurt by COVID

ASTHO President Dr. Nirav Shah outlines four priorities he says must be at the top of the public health agenda in 2022; John Bridgeland, Co-Founder and CEO of the COVID Collaborative, discusses recommendations for helping children who’ve lost a...

ASTHO President Dr. Nirav Shah outlines four priorities he says must be at the top of the public health agenda in 2022; John Bridgeland, Co-Founder and CEO of the COVID Collaborative, discusses recommendations for helping children who’ve lost a parent or caregiver during the pandemic; ASTHO offers a report summarizing legislative efforts taken to support HIV prevention; and we get a sneak peek into a conversation with Caroline Chen, a journalist at ProPublica, about syphilis, coming later this week.

ASTHO Blog Article: ASTHO President Nirav D. Shah Looks Ahead to 2022

COVID Collaborative Report: Hidden Pain

ASTHO Blog Article: State Legislative Activity Supports Federal Evidence-Based HIV Prevention Initiative

ProPublica Report: Babies Are Dying of Syphilis. It’s 100% Preventable

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This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, January 4th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

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


Equal parts hopeful, challenging, and historic: that's how ASTHO president Dr. Nirav Shah describes the year just ended in an article written for ASTHO's blog.

He notes the sacrifice of the public health workforce and four priorities he says must guide public health work in the new year. They include the need to address the growing challenge to public health expertise, the importance of long-term investments, a continued focus on health equity, and ongoing support for state and territorial health officials.

You can read Dr. Shah's article using the link in the show notes.


The pandemic, now entering its third calendar year, has left tens of thousands of children in the U.S. suffering the loss of a parent or caregiver. The COVID Collaborative estimates the numbers so far to be more than 167,000 lives changed forever. The group has issued an action report complete with recommendations. John Bridgeland is co-founder and CEO. He tells us more about the future for these kids in today's morning conversation.

The report makes several recommendations. Can you highlight a few of those here?



So, the first challenge is actually to identify these children who've lost a parent or caregiver to COVID. And the gatekeepers are local—they're community-based nonprofits; they're counselors and teachers in schools who know these children and their families; sadly, faith-based leaders who are presiding over so many funerals—and have a comparative advantage to know, you know, again, these children and families. And municipalities and states that have administrative records, all of them are uniquely positioned to help identify these young people and help them connect to support they so desperately need in their local communities.

Second, professionals can assess what supports these children and families need. And most will experience what's called normative grief—that signals the need for mentors, grief camps, family bereavement programs. We estimate up to 10%, however, may need deeper mental health counseling and supports because they're experiencing prolonged grief.

And finally, communities have a comparative advantage to help these young people because these institutions share their zip codes, know them personally, can surround them with multiple sources, you know, supports that they need. Schools, faith-based institutions, and communities—we want to see them activated to help these children cope with grief and move into the future successfully.


Does the report talk about how to help these kids finish growing up?


Yes, it does. First of all, you know, the tragedy has occurred so swiftly in lonely hospital beds and isolated wards, and these young people haven't had an experience to be able to really understand and cope with the loss. And so, they all need supports: loving, caring adults in their lives; in schools, teachers and counselors; adult mentors through programs like Tuesday's Children that focus on bereavement for such children; and peer support groups, grief camps, social and emotional learning support in schools so that they can cope with the loss move forward and transcend it into a more successful life.


Does the collaborative have any plans to activate these recommendations?


Yes. We're working really hard to translate the plan into action. We briefed the White House, the CDC, Health and Human Services. We're briefing a community of 30 nonprofit organizations that are beautifully positioned to help these children. And we brought together the NAACP, UnidosUS, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum because COVID-19 is disproportionately affected communities of color and, in turn, sadly, the children of adults who have passed who were parents and caregivers.

We're also establishing a clearinghouse of the programs, tools, and resources available to families and their children, and to increase the awareness of quality institutions working on the front lines. We really want to create a community around these young people and their families.

And finally, we're working with the federal government to urge them to provide categorical eligibility and outreach for a range of programs that will help such as temporary assistance for needy families, SNAP to supplement food budgets, Medicaid, Early Head Start, and Head Start. We also were encouraging the creation of COVID-bereaved children's fund, as the country did after 9/11 and for AIDS orphans through PEPFAR, to provide emergency support now.

And finally, we hope governors and state health education and economic leaders will also make this highly vulnerable population that top priority in their responses in their states and localities.


Well, that was my last question—how can public health leaders help?


So, public health leaders are uniquely positioned—they're on the front lines, engaging, intersecting with families. They see the loss firsthand. They see the difficulty facing these families and their children. So, one, that can help identify the actual children and families who've experienced loss.

Two, they can provide the mental health counseling and support that's often so desperately needed. And then, they can be the brokers and facilitators who can help connect these children to other supports they may need, whether that's in schools, through faith-based institutions, other nonprofits that provide mentors, grief camps, peer support programs, and other efforts.

So, they're really at the center, once again, of the action with respect to this vulnerable population.


There's a link to the report in today's show notes.


We hear a lot about public health problems made worse by the pandemic; overdose and HIV are among them. Deaths from drug misuse have jumped during the pandemic while resources intended for HIV work have been diverted—eventually, that could mean an increase in the number of acute HIV infections.

ASTHO has a new blog article about work states have done to address the problem through legislation. There's a link in the show notes.


Finally today, a sneak peek at what's ahead later this week.


One of the things that drew me to reporting this story was realizing that so many people didn't even know that syphilis was still around. You talk to people, you know, lay people—my friends, they'd be like, "Well, isn't that a thing in the 40s." You talk to people in public health, and they're like, "Oh my gosh, this is such a big problem." I'm like, there's some huge gap here.


The voice of Caroline Chen, a journalist working for the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, on her story about syphilis illustrated by the efforts of a local public health investigator trying to get a pregnant woman who was homeless into treatment. Hear more about that later this week.


That'll do it for today's report.


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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. Happy new year.

John Bridgeland JD

CEO, COVID Collaborative