A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: Public health action plan urgently needed to stem the COVID-19 pandemic

Our haphazard and disjointed COVID-19 pandemic response is worsening this national catastrophe. Although vaccines provide a sense of light at the end of the tunnel, during the coming holiday weeks and winter months we will experience the worst public health crisis of our lifetime.

On behalf of the past presidents of the American Public Health Association, we are deeply concerned by the lack of a national, coordinated and science-based strategy to end the pandemic, resulting in preventable deaths and hospitalizations. We continue to see worsening disparities in infection and death rates for racial, cultural and linguistic minorities, while rural communities are largely ignored for prevention and mitigation. Politicization of wearing masks and safe distancing has led to stigma. There is continued disregard by many political leaders for advice provided by experts with experience in public health, infectious diseases, vaccines, and pandemic planning and mitigation. As vaccines are hailed as a way of ending the pandemic, there is a lack of ample coordination and planning for public education and administration of vaccines when they become available, as well as how vaccines will be delivered to high-risk groups and the public. We see both the premature opening of high-risk venues, as well as the failure to close such venues as infection rates are rapidly rising. Mass gatherings and large maskless crowds continue to create super-spreader events in some localities.
Government leadership in some states, is weak or absent, ignoring: the risks to communities; the overflowing intensive care units and emergency departments; and the personal protective equipment needs of essential health care workers and support staff. The President’s Coronavirus Task Force rarely convenes and/or communicates with the public, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s premier public health agency and a world leader in public health, has been restricted and not allowed to make clear scientific statements about how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This has created confusion and a lack of trust in the CDC, despite its expertise in communicating about how to protect health.
On top of the glaring lack of leadership, this pandemic reveals our nation’s deep-seated challenges, including structural racism evidenced by higher morbidity and mortality among our most vulnerable populations. Lack of support for our essential workers who are often underpaid and unable to work remotely continues. Chronic underfunding that has led to the decay of our local, state and national public health infrastructure inhibits our ability to mount a more effective response to the pandemic.

We call on our government leaders at all levels to work with public health experts and agencies to:

• Create a nationwide strategy to end the pandemic that includes equity and access to prevention and health services;

• Ensure the current and incoming Coronavirus Task Forces immediately prioritize science-based, apolitical initiatives to prevent unnecessary deaths and hospitalizations and protect the health of the American people;

• Make prevention a national priority – educating the public with a compelling campaign that requires mask wearing and physical distancing wherever people gather, leading by example by publicly wearing masks and observing social distancing, and initiating a broad dialogue about the importance of testing and vaccination;

• Be the first to publicly receive the vaccine. Help people understand the importance of vaccination, its safety, effectiveness and benefits, especially in high-risk communities sensitive to historical realities that created vaccine distrust;

• Require the CDC to provide and disseminate consistent, honest and science-based recommendations and information about eradicating the pandemic;

• Ensure reliable testing is readily available and accessible to all Americans with follow-up contact tracing as needed; and

• Support state, local and tribal health departments and agencies in their work to fight the pandemic.

• Decrease the financial impact of the pandemic by passing a Federal Coronavirus Relief Bill that provides support for small businesses, essential workers, and food and housing security.
Some people say “it’s a choice between the economy and public health – we can’t protect both,” yet we know that “we need healthy people to have a healthy economy.”

Let’s get on with it. 
Our nation’s health depends on the basic principles of public health: prevention of disease, reliance on scientific evidence and assurance of equity and social justice. These principles must be the basis of a unified national strategy to control the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure the health of our nation now and in the future.
Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN
Myron Allukian Jr, DDS, MPH

American Publish Health Association  

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  1. Richard says:

    The government has provided guidance on what people should do to limit the virus. This guidance has been proven to work, if people follow it. The government and private industry have provided multiple vaccines in record time. The vaccines have begun to be dispersed. As of today 2.7 million people in the U.S. have been vaccinated (University of Oxford).

    Fewer people are dying because we have multiple treatments that are saving people’s lives, like Remdesivir and Dexamethasone. The government has also proven that our military can build hospitals to limit overcrowding if needed. If you will remember, they did this early on, but it was found that they were not necessary. They also ramped up PPE and ventilators. We now have a glut of ventilators (Washington Post).

    The death rate in Jefferson County, the most populous county in Kentucky, is 1.24%. That is based on a certain number of deaths compared to known positive cases of Covid. So this number could actually be lower. As far as structural racism playing a part, please provide evidence of any person being turned away from a hospital, anywhere in America because of race or inability to pay.

  2. Marv Dunn says:

    As the writers imply, we have had virtually no leadership from the federal government in combating COVID-19. Dr. Fauci might be the lone exception but he seems to be frequently undercut by the President. Oh yes, Trump does claim responsibility for Operation Warp Speed. I believe the states should be responsible for distributing and administering the vaccine but there should be leadership from the top. What we should be concerned about now is the availability of the second dose in three weeks for those that received the first dose. Is a second dose being reserved and availability confirmed for those people. I ran into this problem with the shingles vaccine. The second shot was supposed to be administered in six months. Six months passed and none was available. I think it was about a year before I could get the second shot.

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