May 2021: COVID-19 Policy Implications

by Lloyd F. Novick, MD, MPH


This May/June issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice contains a series of articles on COVID-19 that have important policy implications for the prevention and response to this pandemic. The lead scientific article by Marielle Fricchione and co-authors from the Chicago Department of Health describes reopening in-person education in the Archdiocese school setting in Chicago. This article represents the real-time experience of the reopening of the nation’s largest private school system. The findings of this study indicate that the COVID-19 attack rate for students and staff was lower than for the community overall. An accompanying editorial by Chrissie Juliano and LaQuandra Nesbitt emphasizes that in-person education is essential for the social and emotional well-being of children. Data from the Chicago study adds to the evidence that reopening schools is a safe and sound policy. As this issue goes to press, various studies and efforts to vaccinate teachers and school staff have led to a national policy to open schools to in-person learning. We look forward to ending a year where students and their families have suffered from the disadvantages of virtual learning and social isolation.

Heather Pierce, of the Association of American Medical Colleges, writes about how the COVID-19 vaccine rollout revealed our strengths but also the flaws in our public health infrastructure. Vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were delivered to states only 11 months after the SARS-CoV-2 virus was sequenced. This astounding achievement was coupled with a delivery system that left many recipients confused and frustrated. Each state needed to created systems to communicate vaccine priorities to the public, register people for appointments, and ensure those vaccinated would get a second appointment. The organizations tasked to carry out these plans lacked sufficient resources and were overburdened. Shortly before this issue went to press, a third vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, only requiring one injection, was authorized by the FDA. President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act on March 11, 2021, and also announced additional vaccine purchases that will enable all Americans to be eligible for vaccination as of May 1, 2021.

Erika Martin (Rockefeller College of Public Affairs) and co-authors Guthrie Birkhead and David Holtgrave (University at Albany School of Public Health) have contributed a commentary on the key problem of the vaccine rollout: maintaining a focus on health equity. There has not been an equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly when considering the racial and ethnic disparities in the incidence of COVID-19. A group of articles in this issue examines this disparity, including a study by Anne Gagliotti of Morehouse Medical College.

Martha Montgomery and co-authors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describe the logistics of establishing and operating isolation and non-congregate hotels for people living homeless with or without COVID-19 but who are at risk for severe illness. An article by Williams and co-authors describe their experience in making Miami-Dade County COVID-19 surveillance data accessible for local policy makers.

With our May issue, we are publishing a supplemental issue “HRSA’s Investment in Public Health.” Guest editors Paul Jung and Sophia Russell have gathered reports from preventive medicine residencies sponsored by HRSA. The projects collected in this supplement illustrate the importance of the specialty with respect to HRSA priorities ranging from vaping and e-cigarettes to the opioid epidemic and COVID-19. Graduates of HRSA-sponsored preventive medicine residency programs are ready and capable of incorporating medical care and population health into health departments, health centers, and the health system.

Author Profile

Lloyd F. Novick
Lloyd F. Novick, MD, MPH, is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Public Health at the Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University. Previously, he was chair of this Department. He has served as the Commissioner of Health and Secretary for Human Services of Vermont, Director of Health Services for Arizona, and Director of the Office of Public Health for New York State. Previous academic positions include Professor and Director of the Preventive Medicine Program for SUNY Upstate Medical University, Professor and Chair of Epidemiology at the University of Albany School of Public Health, and Clinical Professor and Director of the Teaching Program in Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Vermont, College of Medicine. He is the Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. He is also editor of five books, including Public Health Administration: Principles for Population-Based Management; Public Health Issues in Disaster Preparedness; Community-Based Prevention Programs that Work; Public Health Leaders Tell Their Stories; and Health Problems in the Prison Setting. He is past president of the Association of Teachers of Prevention and Research (APTR) and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO). He has received a number of national awards, including Special Recognition Award, American College of Preventive Medicine (2005); Duncan Clark Award, Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine (2003); Yale University Distinguished Service Award (2003); Excellence in Health Administration, American Public Health Association (2001); and the Arthur T. McCormack Award, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (1992). He is a graduate of Colgate University (BA), New York University (MD), and Yale University (MPH). Follow him on Twitter.