Nation’s Health Officials Call for Greater Collaboration and Communication With Federal Government
September 02, 2020
ARLINGTON, VA— Rachel Levine, MD, president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) and secretary of health at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, issued the following statement in response to recent unexpected federal COVID-19 policy actions, including decisions to alter testing guidance.
“State and territorial health officials are alarmed by the number of policy decisions made by the federal government just last week without prior consultation with state and local public health officials. The failure to provide notice and pre-decisional consultation has a significant impact on our work to protect the health of the American public and in fostering an atmosphere of transparency, trust, and confidence between public health officials and the communities they are working so hard to serve during this historic public health crisis. Policy guidance should only be modified when robust scientific evidence is utilized, the rationale is clearly explained, there is consensus among states on the need for change, and the guidance is determined to be in the best interests of the public’s health and not political expediency. CDC, FDA, and other federal agencies must be empowered to lead in order to maintain the scientific integrity of these decisions without fear of political retribution. Planning for the deployment of new equipment and allocating it to where it is most needed should take place prior to the delivery of such equipment, not afterwards, and has to be effectively coordinated within states to support and expand existing resources.
“Since the beginning of this pandemic, state and territorial health officials have urged federal leaders and given them the opportunity to improve lines of communication through standing consultation and information sharing. Despite our best efforts, state and territorial health officials are consistently sidelined from important pre-decisional policy conversations. New federal guidance and initiatives are often shared with public health leaders at the same time as the general public, which creates confusion and stress at a time when intentional collaboration is needed. This issue must be addressed and fixed immediately, especially as we look towards the deployment of new testing equipment and vaccine distribution at a speed and level of complexity never before seen in this country.
“State and territorial health leaders call upon the federal government to include us in pre-decisional policy conversations with the White House Coronavirus task force to ensure these complex decisions are made in partnership with the public health officials who oversee and are responsible for effective implementation. Addressing this pandemic will take a strong national strategy that includes federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial health agencies working collaboratively. It is only through active engagement of public health leaders that we will all be able to declare victory against this virus and move America forward in recovery.”
ASTHO is the national nonprofit organization representing the public health agencies of the United States, the U.S. territories and Freely Associated States, and Washington, D.C., as well as the more than 100,000 public health professionals these agencies employ. ASTHO members, the chief health officials of these jurisdictions, are dedicated to formulating and influencing sound public health policy and to ensuring excellence in public health practice.