Preparing for another COVID-19 outbreak coupled with flu season
Communication and technology necessary this fall if another COVID-19 outbreak.
This week, CovidExitStrategy.org, United States of Care, Resolve to Save Lives, COVID Act Now, and the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy released new data on COVID-19 spread indicators, college hotspots and addressed how states can prepare for flu season.
“United States of Care is constantly talking to people across the country about COVID-19 and the state of healthcare in the U.S. We have found that Americans want accurate and reliable data and Covidexitstrategy.org meets that need, by supplying real-time data on where their state stands in the battle against COVD-19,” stated Emily Barson, United States of Care Executive Director. “As we prepare for the flu season, accurate and timely data is crucial and must be used to inform the public and policymakers on how we can stay safe and healthy, ” added Barson.
CovidExitStrategy.org was founded by a group of public health and crisis experts, with previous experience working at the White House, Department of Health and Human Services, and on the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. COVID Exit Strategy is a non-partisan group of experts who have worked across multiple administrations.
In an overview of the states’ efforts to contain COVID-19, Marta Wosinska, Deputy Director at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, noted that the national trend in COVID-19 cases hides important regional variation in the prevalence of COVID-19. “After a wave that hit the Sunbelt states this summer, the spread has shifted towards the Midwest. North Dakota now has more COVID-19 cases per million than the hard-hit Texas ever had.”
“COVID continues to disproportionately affect our country’s most vulnerable groups: those who are older, who are poorer, who have less access to healthcare, who have less decision-making power,” said Debbie Lai, COO of CovidActNow.org.
“Our understanding of the spread of COVID-19 and its impacts is becoming less clear over time, because of ongoing issues around data and inconsistent reporting of key indicators. Our national response will continue to be hampered by data gaps and implementation of policies based on suboptimal data.” remarked Cyrus Shahpar of Resolve to Save Lives.
“The most reliable sources for COVID-19 spread continue to be from academia (like John Hopkins University), journalists (like the New York Times), and collaboratives (like The COVID Tracking Project). said Ryan Panchadsaram, Co-Founder of CovidExitStrategy.org, “Unfortunately, the federal government continues to accumulate critical data related to the COVID response, but does not share it with the public. To date, only one dataset from HHS Protect has been made public so far on HealthData.gov: the hospital utilization snapshot.”
As part of the briefing, Christina Silcox, Managing Associate at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy highlighted two recent Duke-Margolis reports related to testing: a primer on diagnostics entitled From Development to Market: Understanding COVID-19 Testing and Its Challenges,” and a framework for public health officials and community leaders in schools, businesses and other institutions on how to use Covid-19 screening test strategies to operate safely and prevent further spread of the virus (“A National Decision Point: Effective Testing and Screening for Covid-19”).
“There is a critical need for more testing in this country, but more importantly, for smart testing--matching the right test for the right purpose at the right time. Equally important is making sure we can act on those test results to actively break chains of transmission and respond quickly as rates of active infection changes in our communities over time,” said Silcox.
Additionally, United States of Care discussed their new “Preparing for COVID-19 and the Flu,” recommendations to states for dealing with the seasonal flu amid a global public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.
“2020 is a completely different year when it comes to flu season. Our health care system is already stressed and now we face the unprecedented problem of fighting the fly while combatting COVID-19. We have spent months engaging in one-on-one conversations with people, policymakers, and various health care leaders and understand what people need to know and what states can do to combat COVID-19 while fighting the flu,” stated Liz Hagan, United States of Care’s Director of Policy for State Engagements. “Historically States have successfully dealt with the flu virus through vaccines and preemptive care to stop widespread outbreaks. Our recommendations can help states prepare for the fall and beyond,” added Hagan.
United States of Care’s “Preparing for COVID-19 and the Flu” breaks down how states can prepare for dealing with the flu and COVID-19 simultaneously. It includes the following suggestions:
Communicate Clearly: State leaders need to be clear in their communications about why protective measures, such as mask requirements and closures, are necessary to keep people safe from the flu and
COVID-19. States can play a vital role in providing people with clarity about what to do if they are infected with either the flu or COVID-19, as they have similar symptoms
Prepare for Increased Health Care Demand: States need to have contingency plans in place so that health care system resources can be efficiently allocated.
Address the Needs of High-Risk People: States will need to continually rely on the latest COVID-19 metrics and data on the flu’s trajectory, especially for high-risk populations to take additional measures.
Develop Plans to Increase Influenza Vaccination Rates: In a typical flu season, less than 50% of people get vaccinated, and the rate is even lower among people of color. Increasing this rate is essential to minimizing the strain on our health care system. Clear communications are also vital due to people’s ongoing concerns about receiving medical care during the pandemic. States will need to develop plans to distribute flu shots in safe-settings, including at home for vulnerable populations.