Featured Story


With many of the state and territorial legislatures reconvening over the next few weeks, we can look forward to new (and not-so-new) legislation start to crop up that will impact public health. To help navigate the new legislative sessions, ASTHO’s "2021 Legislative Prospectus" series highlights eight priority policy areas jurisdictions will address during this year. Each prospectus in the series provides a brief overview of the issue, the issue’s impact on health, and recent legislative trends aimed at addressing the issue. This year, ASTHO developed prospectuses on COVID-19, e-cigarettes, HIV, influenza, maternal mortality and morbidity, neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and rural health.Read More »

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Building a More Equitable Food and Nutritional Assistance System Post-Pandemic: Perspective From Feeding America

May 10, 2021|12:57 p.m.| Jadi Romero | Feeding America Senior Manager of Public Policy & Governmental Relations

The need for food and nutritional assistance is growing. Based on Feeding America’s food insecurity projections released in March, it is anticipated that 42 million people may experience food insecurity this year—up from 35 million pre-pandemic. The job loss in communities as businesses had to shut down or reduce capacity has left many families across the country relying on food banks. In fact, food banks in the Feeding America network distributed 6.1 billion meals to individuals and families during this pandemic, an increase of 43% from 2019. Many of the people who have fallen into food insecurity are experiencing it for the first time in their lives, as our food pantry partners across the country report that 35% or more of the people they’re serving today had never received charitable food prior to the pandemic. Read More »

State Actions on COVID-19 Vaccine Verification

May 06, 2021|11:40 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

With the number of COVID-19 vaccinations growing, some states are looking at their vaccination rates in determining when to loosen measures that mitigate the spread of COVID-19, such as venue capacity limits, business closure times, and masking requirements. As vaccinations allow businesses to reopen and customers to return, questions are arising about whether venues or services—especially those that bring people in close contact for long periods of times—such as retail stores, concert venues, entertainment venues, air travel, cruise ships, etc., can require patrons or customers to verify that they received a COVID-19 vaccine. So far, state policy makers have had mixed views on the issue. Read More »

Stronger Together: Six Strategies to Enhance Your State’s Suicide Prevention Infrastructure

May 06, 2021|11:33 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

This May, we recognize Mental Health Awareness Month and the importance of continued mental health promotion and suicide prevention efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we address the physical effects of COVID-19 through social distancing, mask wearing, and vaccination, we still need to prioritize mental health and wellbeing during and after the pandemic. A recent Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found increases in adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression (36.4% to 41.5%) and unmet mental health care need (9.2% to 11.7%) between Aug. 2020 to Feb. 2021. Read More »

Building More Equitable Health, Housing and Human Services Systems Post-Pandemic

May 05, 2021|10:33 a.m.| Frank Alexander, MPA

All too often, work in health, housing, and human services systems is siloed. However, when you move upstream and work together, these industries can address the root causes of health and social issues. If we continue to operate our systems in silos, responding with a crisis orientation, we will be unable to fundamentally improve the challenging conditions our communities face. We may be able to create the conditions for strong, thriving families and communities if we focus on strengthening community leadership and working across systems. Read More »

Supporting Infant & Child Immunizations during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Q&A with Dr. Michael Warren

April 29, 2021|3:51 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

In recognition of National Infant Immunization Week, ASTHO and AMCHP interviewed Michael Warren, MD, MPH, FAAP, and Associate Administrator of the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), for his thoughts on how we can protect our infants and children from vaccine-preventable diseases during this extraordinary time. Especially now, as COVID-19 vaccination expands across the country—including the hope for a vaccine for children (five years and older), and with the promise of a return to in-person education, families and communities must quickly catch up on missed vaccinations. Read More »

What’s Next for Telehealth: States Try to Make COVID-19 Telehealth Options Permanent

April 29, 2021|2:59 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, temporarily expanding the use of telehealth technologies by removing various requirements and waiving certain restrictions. Many states also expanded telehealth access through changes to state Medicaid laws. These temporary policy changes created an uptick of telehealth use that improved access to care for millions of Americans—but questions remain about which policy changes will stick around beyond the pandemic. Currently, states are making decisions about what temporary policies to permanently implement and which policies to end without disrupting the delivery of care and further exacerbating health disparities. Read More »

STD Awareness Month Highlights a Rise in Rates for Sixth Straight Year

April 28, 2021|4:41 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

Though COVID-19 has dominated public health over the past year, other communicable diseases are still occurring at troubling rates. The CDC recently released data in their Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 2019 report, showing that the reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis continued to increase for the sixth consecutive year and are among the most reported diseases in the United States. As STD Awareness Month comes to a close, below is a breakdown of key takeaways from CDC’s surveillance report and tips for how state health officials can address rising STD rates through leadership, communications, and policy. Read More »

Partnerships for Environmental Health Challenges Show the Way Forward

April 28, 2021|10:05 a.m.| Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, PhD | Acting Assistant Administrator| EPA Office of Research and Development

Last month, I had the pleasure of joining ASTHO’s Vice President for health security, Meredith Allen, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, and the president of the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) Patrick McDonnell at the ECOS Spring Meeting. The event marked the start of a strong state-federal relationship under the new EPA leadership, highlighted by the extension of a formal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) reaffirming a partnership between our three organizations to advance cooperative initiatives in pursuit of environmental health. Read More »

Who Are the Vaccinators? A Look at the Vaccination Workforce

April 21, 2021|1:35 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

As the U.S. continues to undertake the largest vaccination campaign in almost a century, it has required government at all levels to surge workforce capacity. The federal government, states, territories, and local jurisdictions are acting to meet the immediate demand for vaccination as well as expand the long-term vaccination workforce. Looking ahead, expansion of the vaccination workforce long-term will help support potential COVID-19 booster shots and expand vaccine access broadly. Read More »

Public Health Infrastructure Proposals Gain Steam in Congress

April 15, 2021|1:56 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the consequences of decades of underfunding. To ensure we are better prepared for future pandemics and biological threats, we must consider the long-term investments required to bolster our public health infrastructure and workforce. Read More »

Equity as a Pillar in Our Vaccine Rollout

April 15, 2021|11:28 a.m.| Monica Bharel, MD, MPH | Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health

A year ago, it was unthinkable that we would have 600,000 cases and more than 17,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the state of Massachusetts. Many of us know someone who has become ill or has died from COVID-19 and the toll in suffering is immense. I am hopeful that the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine will be a light at the end of this long pandemic tunnel. In Massachusetts, the three pillars of our vaccine effort are to preserve life, preserve our healthcare system, and prioritize equity by focusing on reaching our hardest hit communities. So, equity is at the core of our vaccine allocation work. Read More »

Building Bridges to Better Health the ASTHO Way

April 08, 2021|10:09 a.m.| Michael Fraser, PhD | ASTHO Chief Executive Officer

“Building Bridges to Better Health,” the theme for the 2021 National Public Health Week, resonates with me for two main reasons. First, ASTHO is committed to building and maintaining the partnerships and connections needed to achieve our shared vision of state and territorial health agencies advancing health equity and optimal health for all. These relationships are bridges that connect us to others and to work that amplifies and complements our own. Second, we are deeply rooted in our mission to support, equip, and advocate for state and territorial health officials in their work of bettering health by providing technical assistance and capacity building in areas that advance our collective health and well-being. Read More »

States Work to Support Rural Hospitals Despite Pandemic Challenges

April 07, 2021|11:01 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

When rural hospitals close, it increases the distance people must travel for essential healthcare services. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and magnified the factors leading to rural hospital closures across the country. Many healthcare facilities suspended elective procedures to conserve critically needed personal protective equipment and reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 by patients and hospital staff. For many rural hospitals, however, the suspension of elective procedures with the reduced the use of non-urgent services by apprehensive patients meant a loss of revenue and the furloughed healthcare staff. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately half of all rural hospitals are experiencing negative operating margins due to reduced outpatient revenue. The rate increases in states that have not expanded Medicaid. Unfortunately, these kinds of challenges are not new to rural hospitals. Read More »

Regulating and Remediating PFAS in States

March 31, 2021|3:29 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

A once obscure public health issue that’s gotten more attention in recent years, polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of synthetic chemicals used in products such as nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics, cosmetics, and firefighting products. During production and use, PFAS can migrate into soil, water, air, where they persist. Because they remain in the environment, PFAS can accumulate in humans and animals and can be found at low levels in many food products. Exposure to PFAS can lead to harmful health effects, including an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer and a decreased vaccine response in children. Read More »

Financing Community Health Workers Through Medicaid

March 23, 2021|3:11 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

As the nation grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, community health workers are being recognized for the role they play in improving health outcomes of our most vulnerable communities. In fact, the recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allocates funding for the recruitment, hiring, and training community health workers by public health departments. Read More »

How Can Public Health Data Take a Lead Role? Find Out at the COVID-19 TechXpo

March 17, 2021|3:19 p.m.| J.T. Lane, MPH | ASTHO Chief Population Health and Innovation Officer

While COVID-19 has shown some of the best attributes of the U.S. public health system, it has exposed the weaknesses of our data systems—wrought by chronic underfunding and further exacerbated by siloed, categorical funding and planning. Yet, even with our pandemic weariness and persistent, systemic inequities, this historic event has revealed resiliency across the country. It has also yielded new innovations, along with promising practices and partnerships in how we leverage technology and data to better respond and mitigate public health threats. To build further momentum and support the ongoing modernization efforts of our partners, ASTHO is hosting its first-ever TechXpo. Read More »

Modernizing State HIV Laws: Legislation to Prevent and Decriminalize HIV

March 16, 2021|11:09 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Though we’ve made progress on the number of HIV cases in the U.S, tens of thousands of Americans are diagnosed with HIV each year—a disproportionate number being people of color. In 2019, the federal government launched the Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE) with a goal of ending the HIV epidemic by 2030. EHE leverages four strategies to reduce the prevalence of HIV: diagnosis, treat, prevent, and respond. State efforts to reduce the incidence of HIV align with the federal plan, with many states passing legislation to enhance prevention and harm-risk reduction efforts. Read More »

ASTHO Addresses Insular Areas Health Equity Through Federal Engagement

March 09, 2021|3:46 p.m.| ASTHO Staff

As the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, ASTHO is committed to the T in our name. The health officials from the territories and freely-associated states are valued members and we are committed to advocating for the unique policy needs and priorities of the Pacific and Atlantic jurisdictions. The insular areas face unique challenges locally but also require a specific strategy here in Washington, D.C. Funding approaches and requirements set for states do not always translate to the unique context of the insular areas. Read More »

What to Know About the American Rescue Plan

March 04, 2021|10:07 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

One of President Biden’s first actions just before being sworn into office was to draft up the American Rescue Plan, a sweeping proposal that ASTHO has committed to working with the Biden Administration on. The proposal offers a national vaccination plan, a promise to address COVID-19 health disparities, and efforts to prioritize the expansion the public health workforce. This post details some of the high-level takeaways, as they relate to public health. Read More »

Maternal Mortality in the U.S.: How States Are Working to Reverse the Rate

March 03, 2021|10:17 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

Two rising health trends are negatively affecting women’s health across the United States: maternal mortality (death from pregnancy or delivery complications) and severe maternal morbidity (mental and physical health consequences from a pregnancy or delivery.) Maternal mortality review committees (MMRCs) are one of the best ways to gather information on why pregnancy-related deaths occur and how to prevent them. Studies show that MMRCs can reduce maternal mortality by 20-50% since they examine the underlying causes of maternal mortality, use data to identify gaps in care, and inform a focused approach to prevent deaths and reduce disparities. Read More »

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