How Coronavirus Is Shaping Public Health Policy

Screen capture from webinar meeting.

By: Fabian Osorio / Staff Writer

The United States and many countries across the globe continue to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges that societies and governments are now facing will impact communities, the economy, and healthcare.

The Washington, DC-based staff of FIU hosted a webinar session featuring speakers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the MITRE Corporation, Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, and Wertheim College of Medicine. More than 50 students and alumni from different programs and locations participated in the session.

The one-hour webinar focused on how health policy was being shaped by the pandemic and the participants exchanged their different perspectives on the public and private sectors.

As the COVID-19 pandemic was brewing fast in early March, it required the whole global community to come up with resources and innovative solutions. Leading organizations across public and private industries – healthcare, tech companies, nonprofits, startups & academia – joined the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition organization to share useful data, plans and human resources. 

“It really comes down to the leadership recognizing that this was needed and having that impetus to stand up. What ought to be an impactful and data-driven effort,” Dr. Kunal Rambhia, Biotechnologist of the MITRE Corporation, said. 

He also explained that they were fortunate to have good leadership within their organization as well as across all of their partners’ collaborative efforts. In instances, where companies might typically be parts of the same competitive set, regardless of whether they were tech or healthcare companies, it was important to work together.

Most people are familiar with social distancing and the use of face masks, but what’s next?  This is the question that most people ask each other about.

Gabriel Rodriguez, an FIU freshman student of physics, who was one of the webinar participants, wanted to know how likely a second coronavirus wave in the fall was. Dr. Rambhia answered his question.

“We have reached anything close to hurt immunity and that’s the concept that once a certain percentage of people get the virus that the rest of the population is generally protected,” Rambhia said. “So, until we get a vaccine, until we get therapeutics, I think that we should expect some resurgence of the virus in states over the summer and then pretend a larger wave in the fall.”

The panelist Mary Jo Trepka, Professor and Chair Epidemiology FIU Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work, shared her input in regard to Rodriguez’s question.

“I think the big problem with this is that there seems to be a very high percentage of mild or asymptomatic infections,” Trepka said.

She also said that there had been only a limited number of studies conducted in several states and cities in the United States. There had been errors in terms of the presence of antibodies in recovered Covid-19 patients, and also missed cases despite testing. “It is always difficult to control diseases that are asymptomatic.”

“The crystal ball is only blurry,” Trepka said.

When it comes to human behavior, no one can guess what will be a new reality. People may or may not have a hard time continuing to abide by the social distancing guidelines in their local communities or across states lines.

“I think there need to be unified recommendations. It is very difficult when there are contradictory things because people don’t know what to believe,” Trepka said. “So, I think we as a country have to develop the leadership which we’re giving out.” 

There have been a lot of policies on telehealth and virtual care. New media and modalities are changing to make sure that people can stay healthy and receive the care they need. 

“I think this is how you build trust. Telehealth has been around for years; it just hasn’t been widely adopted,” Will Brady, Chief of Staff U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and who was the third panelist of the webinar, said. 

Brady discussed how the agency has made adjustments to medical billing and telehealth policies in response to the needs of the current crisis.

“I would encourage every student academically. One of the trust barriers that need to continue to be addressed, to advance this very critical and important component of healthcare, that is just what we’ve advanced in leaps and bounds in the current situation.” Brady said.

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