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January 30, 2022 29 mins

Ryan Gorman hosts an iHeartRadio nationwide special featuring Dr. Sabrina Assoumou, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and attending physician in infectious diseases at Boston Medical Center. Dr. Assoumou offers insight into the latest developments with the Omicron variant and answers common questions about COVID-19 vaccines. Alicia Levi, President & CEO of Reading is Fundamental, also joined the show to talk about the pandemic's impact on child literacy across the U.S. 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to I Heart Radio Communities, a public affair special
focusing on the biggest issues impacting you this week. Here's
Ryan Gorman. Thanks so much for joining us here on
I Heart Radio Communities. I'm Ryan Gorman, and we have
some important conversations lined up for you. In a moment,
I'll talk to an infectious disease specialist about the current
wave of COVID cases impacting communities all across the country.

And then I'll talk to the president and CEO of
Reading is Fundamental about how the pandemic has affected child literacy.
Right now, to get things started, I'm joined by Dr
Sabrina Assumu, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Boston University School
of Medicine and attending physician in infectious disease at Boston
Medical Center. Dr Assuma, thanks so much for coming on

the show. And let's start with this current wave of
the omicron variant that we're dealing within this country. Where
are we at with the spread of the virus right now,
We're trending in the right direction, and you're doing their surge.
We've seen pieces highest higher than we've have actually seen
during this pandemic. So um we're heading in the right

direction and the whole country in general, so that's good news,
but we still have a lot of people in the
hospitals and a lot of people are getting very sick. So, um,
depending on what you live in that country. You know,
the Northeast has peaked, which is encouraging. We're seeing our
cases actually dramatically fall, but there are certain places around
the country, such as the Midwest, there are still um

having increasing in cases. So overall, to summarize, we're heading
in the right direction. Um, So I'm cautiously optimistic, but
that means that we still need to be cautious and
follow the public health measures that we've been recommending to
make sure that we continue in this trend. Now, how
would you say this macron wave has compared to previous
waves that we've experienced, whether it was the initial wave

of COVID cases, or the wave following the holidays at
the end of or even this most recent wave with
the Delta Barreant. Yah, know, it depends on where you
lived in that country at the Yeah, I live in
Boston and actually the belt the wave was actually not
not very bad blast. The first initial wave Inwenties you

have heard Boston was UM a location for one of
the super spreader events, So we we got hit very
hard at the time when we did not have tools
such as vaccine, so we were very busy. We had
a lot of deaths UM. But when you look at
in terms of comparing it in general for the rest
of the country, I mean, we've seen a number of

cases that were actually high actively we've ever seen UM.
For instance, there were some days when we have almost
a million cases and it seemed as if everyone seems
to be getting COVID. I mean, we all know people
who UM who you know had been cautious and had
been vaccinated, We're getting COVID during that time period. Now,
when you look at hopitalizations, you know, you know. One

of the things that's been UM a little bit frustrating
for me as an infectious disease physician is that initially
when the reports came out, there there was this belief
that omcron was quote unquote mild. UM. It is true
that it is less severe than UM the delta variant.
That's very true. But less severe does that mean mouth

If you talk to any doctors a physician in the
hospital going that they can tell you that our hospitals
are very busy, that we're seeing a lot of people
die unfortunately, so it is still a time when we
need to follow our publicast measures and get vaccinated, um,
so that we can all get to a new sense
of normalcy. I'm Ryan Gorman, joined by Dr Sabrina Assumu,

Assistant Professor of Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine
and attending physician in infectious Disease at Boston Medical Center.
You mentioned that this omicron wave is likely to peak
sometime pretty soon. Given that likelihood, does it still make
sense for those who are unvaccinated to go and get vaccinated. Yes? Absolutely.

And if there's one thing you can remember from our
conversation today, and I hope the public will get away from,
is that it is not too late if you have
not yet been vaccinated, it's laculated to get vaccinated. It
will protect you and as I've mentioned, we're seeing you know,
still a lot of severe disease in the hospital. Will
protect you and hopes to protect your community because um,

you know, people who have asked me are less less
to get COVID and I less life peace to transmit. Um,
I know that that's sort of you know, one of
the things that people focus on a lot. And you know,
you're less like piec to die if you get vaccinated.
So another for all of us to get to, you know,
that new sense of normalcy. We're gonna need to vaccinate
as many people as possible, We're gonna need to boost

as many people are about possible. But really the place
to think where we get the most things for our
buck is actually getting people who are not get vaccinated vaccinated.
That is how we can really uh decrease the reading
infections in the community. So it's naturally please get vaccinated.
And if you have questions, you know, uh, talk to
your healthcare professionals. I know that, um, you know a

lot of people still have tarns, they're scared, they have questions,
So just re shout to a healthcare professionals or to
someone that you trust. We've been vaccinated so that you
can have your questions answered. I know a lot of
people listening right now have been hearing about breakthrough cases.
Might even know somebody work with somebody who has been
fully vaccinated yet still got affected with COVID nineteen. Especially

during this omercron wave, you mentioned the transmission rate is
lower for those who are vaccinated. Can you explain how
that works and how we know that. Yeah, you know,
we know that people who are vaccinated are approximately you
know ten have a ten times less likelihood of first

of all, getting bacause that's what people forget. You know,
people say, well, if you're vaccinate or your vaccinate, you
can transmit. That is true, but you have to even
start from where you you Where you begin is that
in the first place, if you get back to me,
you're less likely to get COVID. And then the other
study that have come out along the way is that, yeah,
studies that show that when you're vaccinated, even if you

get infected UM, you tend to shed virus or shorter
periodic times, right, and that means that you're less contiguous
for like your family or your community. So UM, it
is true that as we especially with AMCON, because this
this variant was what we call immune invasive, so I
was able to infect people who were UM who were

vaccinated if they they were not boosted UM. It's still
it's very helpful to get vaccinated because when we get vacinate,
you're less like to get infected in the first place,
and then if you do get infected, you tend to
shed virus for shorter period of times. I'm Ryan Gorman.
Join right now by Dr Sabrina Assumu, Assistant Professor of
Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and attending physician

in Infectious Disease at Boston Medical Center. Let's talk about
natural immunity for a moment. What do we know about that?
And and there have even reports recently of people trying
to contract this omicron variant because it's been said to
be milder than previous forms of COVID nineteen and that

would be a way for them to get natural immunity.
Is that a good idea talk to us about that? Yeah,
I know this is a very very important point. And
actually I like that you're like hitting those very important
points that I would like to get across. UM the
number one. I like to refer to it as like
um immunity after infection because that's actually what it is.
Because when you start using the term natural, this is

not naturally Some people may you know, have it may
make some people less likely to want to get vaccinated
when actually when you think of what we're doing your vaccination,
we're giving you, you know, uh, some information that so
that your body can actually uh create an immune response,
which is also what you get if you get infected UM,

so that you can so that immune response could protect
you down the line. So both are like achieving the
same thing. But you can actually when you get vaccinated,
you're you're you're not putting yourself at risk for getting
hospitalized from COVID from uh, you're decreasing your your your
the chances that you would need to be hot rice

from COVID or dying from COVID. So UM in terms
of SO infection, what what what we've found out is
that UM infection, getting immunity after infection UM could actually
provide you some protection. What we're discovering is that that
protection is actually is not is often not long lasting.

So you know, you may get a protection so maybe
likes say three months, but you could probably have heard
of a lot of people who let's say UM, were
first infected like you know a lot of previous waveless
in twenty twenty, and then got reinfected again if they
didn't get vaccinated. So we know that that protection UM
is short lived. That's why we still recommend vaccination UM

after getting infected. UM Number two is that when you
get UM, you get immunity after infection. What we do
know is that because as we talked about, there's such
a range of how people respond to the virus, right,
you have some people who have actually no sentence. You
have people who need to go to the hospital and

what needs to be in the I se you, And
so because of that range, we know that in fact,
if you are one of those unfortunate people who needs
to be hospitalized in the in the I see you,
your body actually UM developed a very very strong immune response.
And we know that that's actually going to be more
protective because if you asymptomatic when you have COVID, you
may not develop is very strong immune immune response that's

gonna be longer lasting and brought to protect you for
like the long term. So that is why we actually
have a lot of studies that shows us that UM,
if you actually get your immunity from vaccination, it provides
you number one, a longer lasting protection and number two,
it provides you like a broader protection so that you
can UM you can have that protection the line. So

so my message is you know, if you've had um,
if you've developed immunity after being infected, it is still
very very important that you get vaccinated so that you
can have a longer lasting and broader protection. And the
conversation around being fully vaccinated, what does it mean now
to be up to date with your COVID vaccinations? Yeah,

that's an excellent question. So first of all, you know,
I know that it's been very hard for us as
as physicians and as public health professionality. So syscanctly convey
like a lot of the messages and it seems that
if things keeps changing all the time, that's because you know,
the science are is evolving, and you can actually say
like you know, we're building the plane as we'replying it

because you're in the pandemic and in a crisis. So
at this point, um, the CDC is actually pivoting their
language and going from instead of things fully vaccinated, they're
using the term being up to date with your vaccination
is actually that's actually a term that they've been using
for many, many years. If you look at like any
of the vaccination, we always refer to it as like

are you up to date? Are you not up to date,
and the reason why they modify that language is that,
you know, we want to be honest here. When the
initially these vaccines came out, you know, they provided really
great protection um against infection when you look pretty early
on that like two months. But what we notice is
that as time goes by, that immunity kind of wings.

But when you get that booster is really increases your
protection and we think that that's hopefully gonna last a
longer period of time. So that is why for everyone
who's previously then what we called flee vaccine. But that
I mean if you've had either um an like two
shops of the mr anda vaccines for the m RNA
vaccines are either Bizon modenna. If you receive your your

initial primary theories, we still recommend that you get a
booster five months after that to be what we call
up to date to get that booster. Or if you
have a d m J vaccine, recommend that you have
um A booster those two months after your dan J
vaccine so that you can become what we call up
to date. And final question for you people are hearing

about a potential fourth dose of the vaccine. Something Israel
has been looking at recently, what do we expect the
next step to be with these COVID nineteen vaccines or
do we not know yet? Yeah, I know, the sciences
is still evolving, we're gathering more data. Um. What we
do No. Number one is that like we want everyone

to get that initial booster because as I said, it
provides you know, that broader protection and it really increases
your protection against the omicron experience. It's really really key. UM.
We don't really know if we're gonna have to recommend
addition of those things from what Israel. So Israel went
ahead and actually provided that workdoes to a certain group
of people. UM. And what they're seeing is that you know,

the marginal benefit, like the additional benefit you getting from
that fourth fill um isn't as great as what you
got from you that initial booster UM. And so we
were kind of, you know, we're looking at data, we're
kind of seeing to see how things evolved so that
we can make recommendations. But right now it's it's unclear
who's going to need additional doses. But what we do

know is really clear is that getting that initial booster,
it's gonna be really key to try and to get
us to that any sense of normal teams, so please
go ahead and get back to vaccinated and boosted. Dr
Sabrina Asumu, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Boston University School
of Medicine and Infectious Diseases Physician at Boston Medical Center.

Dr Asumu, thank you so much for the time and
insight into all of this. We really appreciate it. Thank
you very much for having me on. All right, and
finally let's turn to Alicia lev President and CEO of
Reading is Fundamental, which you can learn more about at
rally to Read dot org. Alicia, thank you so much
for taking a few minutes to come on the show,

and let's start with some background, an overview of the
work you do at Reading is Fundamental and how this
initiative came about. Well, Ryan, thank you so much for
having me. Let me start by saying that there's a
literacy crisis in America today, even before the pandemic hit,
sixty percent of children entering fourth grade we're not reading proficiently.

I want to say that again because whenever I say it,
people have a hard time believing me. Sixty five percent
of children entering fourth grade we're not reading proficiently see,
and that really sad, unacceptable reality just doesn't change for
them as they progressed through their education. Only thirty seven
percent of high school graduates were at or above reading
proficiency before the pandemic. If you're not reading at grade

level by fourth grade, then the data tells us you're
unlikely to catch up. So with that as a backdrop,
Reading is fundamental is committed to changing that reality for children.
For her fifty five years, RISK has been committed to
a committed to a literate America, inspiring a passion for
reading among all children, providing them with quality content to

make an impact, and engaging communities in the solution we
build to passy and local communities to create a culture
of literacy and provide children with access to and choice
of the books that they read. That's what RISK is
all about. That's what we continue to be about, and
that's why we're so excited about this great campaign that

we launched called Rally to Read. As children were net
and families were navigating through this just awful pandemic. When
you get into the demographics of those who aren't where
they should be in their literacy development, what is it
that you typically see. Uh, you find that the numbers
are even worse. Children from underresourced, underserved communities, communities of

colors in particular, UM, those statistics are are even more tragic. UM.
And that is really really that sad factum. And if
children can't read, that foundational element of reading is what
enables them to learn. So if we can't get them
that foundational building block of reading, they're just they're just

going to face so many more challenges. But but you
hit it right on the head when you really dig
into the dig into the numbers. UM, you know, under
resource communities are the ones that suffer the most. I'm
Ryan Gorman, joined by Alicia Levi, President and CEO of
Reading is Fundamental. You can learn more about the work
they do at rally to read dot org. Tell us

about your program model. So central to our program model,
it's it's choice. As hard as it is to believe
in UM, we're providing children with educational solutions that really
don't meet their needs. Century learners require twenty one century solutions,

and here at risk were format and platforms inclusive. We
believe in print, digital chapter books, picture books, workbooks, sticker books.
If if there is a book or a a format
that will engage a child's interest in reading, we went
in front of them so that if they're engaged, we're

likely to be motivated, and if they're motivated, will read
more frequently. And if they read more frequently, they're on
a path to be able to read proficiently. So our
program model is all about choice and access. I want
to take a second and go back to before the
pandemic hit and everything got disrupted. What were some of
the big issues you were focused on then, So it's

interesting about the pandemic. Well, there's so many interesting things
right about the pandemic um but I think that the
prior to the pandemic riff was laser focused on this issue,
providing children with choice and access to books, making sure
that communities in which they lived were engaged. We're creating

a culture of literacy that hasn't changed for us the
urgency that has resulted in the pandemic. It's just there
are there are even more children that are impacted. Their
learning environments were disrupted and continued to be disrupted in
such a negative way that the pandemic has just, in

my view, shinned a spotlight on this very real issue.
Um so, so there's an urgency of now there is
more need than ever. So our work hasn't really changed
how we how we execute our work has certainly had
to adapt to this reality of covid UM, but we
we remain focused on this, this tragic, tragic issue of

children's literacy in this country. Here in America, there are
that many children who aren't reading proficiently. And I would
argue that families are recognizing this and experiencing this as
they've had to adapt to homeschooling for all intents and purposes,
that they haven't allowed their children haven't been allowed to
be in classrooms. That the need for reading instruction has

just been um amplified as a result of COVID. I'm
Ryan Gorman, joined by President and CEO of Reading is Fundamental,
Alicia Levy. You can learn more about all the work
they're doing a rally to read dot org. What impact
has technology had on literacy here in the US, because
you were just alluding to the fact that a lot

of kids have had to do remote learning, uh during
the course of the pandemic. Talk about that and then
other technological advances that we've seen that have maybe been
beneficial or in some ways have maybe hurt children's ability
to read. Well, look, you've got it exactly right, right,
it's a mixed fact, right. The pandemics certainly forced an

acceleration of UM of technology as a solutions or as
enabler I should say, as an enabler of of of
learning UM and for for children in communities and homes
that they could provide that solution, it's been a remarkable tool.
We we at reading a fundamental We have a host

of digital resources UM that are available for free UM
for families and in classrooms a nationwide UM that really
helped encourage UM and engage children in reading. So we've
seen huge spikes in traffic UM to those resources, as
you would expect because more and more families and classrooms

are are using technology and using it in many cases effectively.
That having been said, there remains a huge digital divide
in this country. There are the have and have not,
and there are millions of children in homes across the
country who didn't have the benefit of those devices that
they needed or the connectivity that was required for you know,

for remote learning, and so those children continue to fall
further and further behind. And so what we here we
survey our networks were a vast network of parents and
educators and caregivers who are literacy advocates. I call them
our local literacy advocates, and and we've heard from them
that for those children, access to print books remains a

critical resource and and they need those resources. So when
when I say we're kind of platform inclusive, we recognize
that the value of UM of print and digital is equal.
It's just that some children UM need those those formats,
you know, for different reasons. So long winded kind of

answer to your very simple questions. Technology has certainly advanced.
There's been wonderful, wonderful tools and resources that have been
developed over covid UM for for digital access for digital
learners UM. But at the same time, kids that haven't
had access to those tools continue to need those print resources.

And that's really where RIFF has focused the disruptions that
we've all experienced, but in particular the disruption that the
children have experienced during the course of this pandemic, especially
when it comes to learning to read. How much of
a long term impact could that potentially have on literacy
in this country. I believe that one of the most

tragic impacts of COVID, beyond the horrendous loss of life
that we've all experienced, will be on this generation of learners.
I believe that the disrupted learning environments that these kids
have encountered, UM, the limitations UM, the foundational building blocks
that they've missed in helping them learn to read of

I think that the research is going to show and
the impact of these kids that we're going to experience
is going to show that this is going to be
the longest, um one of the most you know, kind
of longest term impacts of COVID. And it's not just
on the reading skills, which are foundational for their ability
to learn. It's on their social emotional skills. But books.

Books are an amazing tool to help his experienced life
to deal with their with their feelings and their interactions
with other um, with other children, and the social emotional
learning laws that's happened as children have been isolated as
a result of COVID and not have those social interactions

that are so critical and foundational to their um, you know,
to their learning growth. I think will be felt throughout
through this generation for years to come. I'm Ryan Gorman,
joined by Alicia lev President and CEO of Reading is Fundamental.
You can learn more about all the work they do
at rally to read dot org. So many organizations have

had to pivot and adjust to the disruptions caused by
this pandemic. I'm sure Reading is Fundamental is no different.
Talk a little bit about how you've been able to
do that while continuing to make progress with the mission
you're on. Well, we all have to adapt, right, You
have to be agile UM, whether you're you know, a

parent or an educator or caregiver, an organization like mine
UM that's looking to reach kids. And our goal UM
was certainly to you know, to deal with the continually
shifting dynamics. UM. You think you come up with a
solution one day and the supply chain shuts down, so
you pivot, you adapt. Our goal has been to just

figure out how we can reach these kids, their families
or communities with these much needed resources. And so I
could I could go on for a week on the
kind of creative ways UM. That team has worked with
our local literacy advocates and local communities. Whether we figured
out a way to get books to schools who were

shut down but distributing food UM as families pulled up
in in kind of UM car lines UM to you know,
to delivering resources digitally. We have a new platform, a
new book platform called Skybury that for those with connectivity,
UM had access to a library over a thousand books.

So we we really try to adapt UM. It's been
an interesting time for us for sure, for all of us,
but as the circumstances changed, we really kind of shifted.
It was all about the delivery. However, Ryan, I would say,
we've always stay focused and this is I think one
of the remarkable things about an organization like Reading a sundamental.

We stay true to our mission. We're about reaching kids
with the life changing power of books. How we get
those books to them, in what format, in what way?
How we engage the communities that serve them. Uh, that's
certainly been an interesting journey for us. UM. That's saying
laser focused on helping kids read has not changed for us,

and I don't expect will, especially as we come out
of the pandemic and and deal with the with the
real learning loss that I think we'll all experience with
this generation of learners. And one final question for you
to tie to the pandemic. What impact do you think
books and reading have had on kids during this chaotic time,
especially when it comes to their mental and emotional well being.

I think they're critical. I think there are a critical
window UM into UM into life that I think they
they've allowed, They've allowed all of us right to go
beyond the four walls of our homes. UM in some
cases when we couldn't leave them. Well, you know, some
of the restrictions were in place. UM. They are. They

are the tools and in how our children to understand
the world in which they live, and they are the
foundational building block for them to be able to learn
all the things they'll need to learn, uh, to really
be you know, productive members of society one day. So
having access to two books right again, to be a

comic book, it could be a coloring book, any resource
that really engages a child and in the art of
reading UM is critical. And I think that UM it's
it's been essential for kids when they haven't been in
front of a classroom or in front of a teacher. UM.
Over over the last couple of years, and so we've

seen a huge increased demand, a huge increased demand in
requests for for these kinds of resources, and I expect,
as I said, we'll continue to see that is as
we navigate through UM this pandemic and beyond. And final
question for you again, I'm joined by Alicia Leave, President
and CEO of Reading is Fundamental. You can learn more

Rally to Read dot org. Tell us about the Rally
to Read initiative. Well, we kicked the Rally to Read
Initiative off with with all the things we talked about
in mind providing access and engagement and resources UM two
kids nationwide to really encourage them to read, to explore

new world, to see new things UM and and so
we kicked the program off at the beginning of this
last school year. It will culminate with a with an
exciting UM Celebration event on Red Across America Day in March.
And the idea was really to say, UM, there's there's
reading opportunities and everything around you. And we've created themes

and resources and activities and and and engaged amazing authors,
amazing children's books book authors to join us and and
do read alouds and talk about the power of books
and how exciting books can be. And so the campaign
has been a wonderful kind of rally to pick up

on the on the branding, a real rally for this
nation to encourage kids to read. Alicia lev President and
CEO of Reading is Fundamental Again. You can learn more
about all the work they do at Rally to Read
dot org again. That's rally to Read dot Org. Alicia,
thanks so much for coming on the show, and thanks

so much for the work your organization is doing. We
appreciate it. Well, Ryan, thanks so much for having me.
All right, and that's going to do it for this
edition of Heart Radio Communities. As we wrap things up,
want to offer big thanks to all of our guests
and of course to all of you for listening. I'm
Ryan Gorman. Will be back, same time, same place, next weekend.
Stay safe.
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