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COVID-19 and Public Health Funding

– submitted by Dr. Kevin Davis

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has exposed the woeful underfunding of our public health departments at every level of government.  This underfunding happens under democratic and republican administrations.  Public health departments across the country are not politically important until something goes wrong.  When public health practitioners do their jobs well, bringing diseases under control, keeping their communities safe, their reward is the loss of funding.  Benjamin Franklin was credited with saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Our health system is primarily dedicated to making sick people well, but little effort or resources are spent in keeping healthy people healthy.  With this pandemic, the best course of action is to keep healthy people healthy.

If the health care system gave more attention and resources in keeping healthy people healthy, given that it is flu season, we should have been messaging the general prevention measures for flu.  It is estimated that between 30,000 and 60,000 Americans die from the flu each year.  And although COVID-19 is not exactly like the flu, commonsense preventative measures are.  Cough in your elbow, wash your hands, and if you have a fever stay home.

What do we know about COVID-19 from a community perspective?  It is an airborne pathogen, the incubation period is about 14 days, and the elderly are more likely to adversely be affected by it.  How do we protect our community?  The goal of a prevention strategy is to decrease the number of individuals exposed to the pathogen.  So, our community response is also the individual’s response.  This is why accurate information is so important.  As individuals protect themselves, they are also protecting their families and communities.

When a person is identified with the virus public health officials will begin a method called contract tracing to identify individuals who may have been exposed to the pathogen.  Depending on the pathogen, the health department can provide prophylaxis treatment before the onset of symptoms to interrupt the spread of the infection and to treat infectious individuals so that they are no longer contagious.

Since COVID-19 in a new virus, there is currently no treatment.  The recommendations from the public health professionals are this two-pronged approach to keep healthy people healthy and to identify individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.  Stay out of high-risk settings (large gathering), wash your hands often and if you have a fever stay home and seek medical attention from a qualified practitioner.

The coronavirus pandemic exposes our public health system, but it also highlights the tremendous professionalism of our public health practitioners.  In the face of political influence, these dedicated professionals have spoken truth to power and to the public-at-large.  Too often with events like these, misinformation can be as harmful as the disease itself.  There has been so much misinformation on social media, misinformation platforms, and from political officials. The amount of misinformation has led to the inaction of the political class.

As a veteran of these outbreaks (from a local public health practitioner point of view), I know to disconnect myself from any information that isn’t coming from a reliable source and for me, the only reliable sources are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

To stay informed visit the CDC, NIH, and WHO webpages on COVID-19 at:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus

https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

 

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