Public Health Organizations Publish Lessons Learned From the Early Days of COVID-19 Response

December 01, 2020

ARLINGTON, VA—The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), The Big Cities Health Coalition (BCHC), and the de Beaumont Foundation sponsored a COVID-19 supplement in the January/February 2021 issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice discussing themes, trends, and issues that emerged in the first eight months of the public health response to COVID-19.

The supplement, entitled “COVID-19 and Public Health: Looking Back, Moving Forward” highlights where the United States was challenged in the pandemic response—including the lack of a coordinated federal, state, and local strategy, conflicting public messages about the severity of the virus, and politicization of public health interventions like mask-wearing and social distancing. The supplement describes the impact of COVID-19 on high-risk populations and the impact of COVID-19 on communities of color nationwide. Lessons learned for an improved national response, including efforts to support the COVID-19 vaccination campaign, are also highlighted.

“Public health leaders must work to pivot from a national narrative that public health interventions are at odds with liberty and economic prosperity: it is in fact a healthy society that creates the conditions for liberty and economic growth, not a sick one,” says Michael Fraser, ASTHO chief executive officer, Chrissie Juliano, BCHC’s executive director, and Brian Castrucci, de Beaumont Foundation president and chief executive officer in the issue’s editorial. “Public health leaders also have to pivot toward a narrative supporting wellness and prevention: it is far easier and ultimately far cheaper to prevent diseases such as COVID-19 than to treat them.”

This issue also features articles from ASTHO members Joneigh Khaldun (chief medical executive and chief deputy director for health, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) and LaQuandra Nesbitt (director, District of Columbia Department of Health). Khaldun writes about her leadership experiences and lessons leading a state health agency during a pandemic, and Nesbitt writes about the need to understand the root causes of the racial disparities in COVID-19 cases.

ASTHO staff also make an appearance in the issue. Fraser, along with Jim Blumenstock, ASTHO’s senior vice-president for pandemic response and recovery, and members of the infectious disease team write about lessons in contact tracing so far this year and in vaccination planning from the H1N1 pandemic. Fraser, Juliano, and BCHC staff also write about policy interventions to control the spread.

“2020 has been a long year with tough lessons, but I hope this supplement offers public health professionals a blueprint for how we got here, but also how we can move forward as we prepare for vaccine distribution and a renewed focus on the importance of public health prevention,” says Fraser.


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.