As our nation confronts the COVID-19 pandemic, we have once again become aware of the critical importance of our state and local health departments. They are the backbone of our nation’s response system.
This is not a new story: Just in this century, we have confronted major infectious disease outbreaks — SARS, H1N1, MERS, Ebola, Zika and dengue. Now COVID-19. Every president, every governor and every city and county chief elected official has had to mobilize their public health systems to respond to each of these crises. These challenges seem to be occurring with greater frequency due to climate change, animal-human interaction, a growing world population and antimicrobial resistance.
But local and state leaders have responded with one hand tied behind their backs. It’s because we, as a nation, have chosen not to consistently fund a strong public health system that can quickly alert us to new problems, build resilient communities that are healthy and socially connected, and create a reserve capacity to respond to an emergency of any kind.
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