Skip to main content

Reemergence: Learning to Navigate the Pandemic and Supporting Public Health

As the nature of the pandemic continues to evolve over time with new variants, seasonal outbreaks and changes in social activities impacting COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates, questions around how we should approach our lives and work moving forward and what our system looks like and what it needs to look like to continue to adapt to the pandemic.

A person receives a COVID test

As the nature of the pandemic continues to evolve over time with new variants, seasonal outbreaks and changes in social activities impacting COVID-19 cases and hospitalization rates, questions around how we should approach our lives and work moving forward and what our system looks like and what it needs to look like to continue to adapt to the pandemic. 

Recently, CMF members heard exclusive updates from the state’s chief medical executive and chief epidemiologist in an event hosted by the Governor’s Office of Foundation Liaison (OFL) and CMF’s Health Funders Affinity Group. 

During the virtual event, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive for the state of Michigan and Dr. Sarah Lyon-Callo, director of Bureau of Epidemiology & Population at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), explored the current state of the pandemic and community reemergence and discussed the role of philanthropy in supporting Michigan’s communities, families and children. 

Dr. Lyon-Callo provided an update on case rates within the state, highlighting that rates are no longer on a steady decline and in fact some areas of the state are showing potential signs of a plateau or a slight increase. 

She also shared the latest on race and ethnicity data, hospitalization rates and mortality rates as well as vaccination rates. 

Key takeaways from the data shared:

•    In the most recent surge in cases, adults in the age range of 30-39 showed the highest case rates followed by 40-49- and 20–29-year-olds.

•    Specific to race and ethnicity, case rates continue to be the highest among individuals who are American Indian/Alaska Native. 

o    American Indian/Alaska Natives currently have the highest death rate at 4.3 deaths per million population. 

o    25% of case records are missing race and ethnicity data and the state has continued to work to lower that number. 

•    Hospitalization rates have decreased in all preparedness regions and all of those regions have fewer than 85 hospitalizations per million population.

o    During the peak of the Omicron variant wave, hospitalization rates in Black adults were nearly four times as high as rates among White adults. 

•    In February, unvaccinated people had 2.9 times the risk of testing positive for COVID-19 and 25 times the risk of death compared to those who were up to date on vaccinations.

o    Reported vaccination coverage is lower among Black residents in Michigan.

•    Vaccination rates have plateaued among various age groups. 

o    Less than 30% of children between the ages of 5 and 11 have received a vaccine. 

o    While a COVID vaccine is not yet available for children under the age of 5, the state is recognizing the importance of preparing for the rollout of that vaccine when available. Over 90% of children less than 5 years old vaccinated for influenza are vaccinated by a pediatrician or family practice provider which demonstrates the importance those providers have in COVID-19 vaccination. 

Dr. Lyon-Callo shared opportunities for the state to address the challenges with missing and inconsistent data such as improving the data system to better understand the experiences of individuals with disabilities, supporting the visualization of data and information at the state and local levels and working to understand the effects of Long-COVID through research. 

The speakers outlined ways to address vaccination rates and to support groups that have been impacted disparately by the pandemic through the use of effective tools, consistency in messaging and communication strategies and more effective use of social media. 

One of the largest issues that has emerged in the pandemic is the need for trusted messengers and to explore who those trusted messengers may be.

“As public health and as those who are funding and supporting public health initiatives, we need to start thinking outside of the box in terms of whom we’ve identified as trusted messengers. Where we really need to be investing in is our 20- and 30-year-olds, is it TikTok influencers or more of a peer education network? I think we need to be more open-minded, social media rules in this day,” Dr. Bagdasarian said. 

Dr. Bagdasarian shared that for foundations who are thinking of supporting and funding any communication on the pandemic, it’s important to ensure the messaging is consistent and cohesive with public health messaging.

“Not having cohesive messaging as a nation has really hurt our relationship with the public,” Dr. Bagdasarian said. 

Looking ahead to how we continue to manage the pandemic while prioritizing equity, Dr. Bagdasarian provided an overview of how we can prepare for future surges due to seasons, societal changes and new variants. 

“We’ve been discussing how to take the lessons learned from this pandemic and use them to build a better public health future, how to make sure that we’re ready for not just future COVID surges, but how we are ready for future pandemics, outbreaks and public health emergencies,” Dr. Bagdasarian said. 

Dr. Bagdasarian shared how the state is thinking about prioritizing equity in all public health actions and activities through strengthening the public health infrastructure and trust in public health messaging and measures including:

•    Ensuring adequate financial support for local health departments and other partners.

•    Working towards better data management systems that intercommunicate. 

•    Increase capacity for public health response which includes recruitment and retention for the workforce. 

•    Rebuilding relationships with communities. 

•    Keeping messaging unified, targeted, data-driven and ensuring we are all using the same terminology across the state and the country.

As we continue to navigate the way we live and work amid the pandemic, the speakers highlighted that we are in a state of recovery and preparedness, then must move to a state of readiness to create the resilience we need moving forward.

Want more? 

All CMF members are invited to join the next conversation hosted by CMF’s Health Funders Affinity Group to share how their organization is addressing behavioral health and learn more about health-related collaborations and innovations happening across the state. Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and her team will share updates on investments the state is making and engage with attendees on behavioral health-related issues of interest to Michigan philanthropy. Register here. 

Join the Public Health Communications Collaborative for a discussion on protecting public health through the current COVID-19 landscape and beyond. The webinar will offer stories and lessons learned from public health communicators across the U.S. that can be used to address current and future communication needs. Learn more.