A Tribute to Public Health Responders

May 5th, 2020 | Viewpoint

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Over the past months, I have been honored to work alongside some of the most dedicated and smart public health professionals. Public health respondersnurses, epidemiologists, infection preventionists, administrators, program managers, support staff, doctors, risk communications expertsworking around the clock to protect our communities and to “flatten the curve” and to address the COVID-19 threat. As we work to protect and respond, COVID-19 presents public health with unique challenges.

First, the unknown: The science on COVID-19 is evolving. What was true one day is not the next. For example, over time, and from leading-edge research, we have learned that asymptomatic transmission is likely occurring, which has meant adjusting our disease investigation strategies and our advice to the public on the use of cloth masks. We have yet to fully understand whether having antibodies for COVID-19 (a sign that a person has been exposed and built up an immune response) actually means that a person is immune from future infection. This means that public health professionals must change our response strategy and our public messaging on an ongoing basis to ensure that we optimally protect communities and health care systems.

Second, resource shortages: In an ideal world, all health care facilities would have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing for COVID-19 would be ubiquitous. With adequate resources we could all rest easier, knowing that our health care workforce is better protected and that we are able to implement broader scale disease containment strategies. Lack of PPE and testing has meant using introducing approaches to reuse PPE and targeting disease containment strategies to protect the most vulnerable. Public health has been leading the charge in developing and implementing these approaches.

Third, the policy environment: The economic impact of COVID-19 and the social distancing strategies that have been put in place to mitigate its impact are painful. Policymakers must walk a fine line of protecting the health of the public and shoring up the economy and the public’s psychological well-being. As these discussions continue, public health professionals/organizations will contribute to the dialog by providing the best available science and data and by gearing up to contain any future spread of COVID-19 that may result from policy changes.

Since the beginning of COVID-19, our public health responders have continuously and seamlessly adapted to the challenges. The fact that our society can even consider the possibility of reopening is a testament to the work of these public health professionals.  This is a tribute to them.

 Written by Amy Cullum

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