The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that protecting the public’s health is important for the security and prosperity of the country, so I hope the United States begins to invest in public health the way it does in national security. In the past two decades, local public health departments have lost a quarter of their workforce, leaving them understaffed and under-resourced. When the pandemic hit, health department staff who were handling opioid response had to suddenly start doing contact tracing. Those who were managing childhood asthma in schools had to stand up testing sites. Now, they’re being tasked with distributing vaccines in the most ambitious vaccination program the nation has undertaken in recent history.
Communities expect their local health departments to be the safety net for all ills, handling public safety, homelessness, food distribution, drug treatment, and school health, to name a few. Indeed, public health ties to all these areas. In five years’ time, I hope the nation has a renewed sense of public health’s role in communities’ overall well-being—and is investing accordingly. And because public health connects to the economy, criminal justice, education, and numerous other segments of society, I would love to see people in other fields get training in public health as a part of their education. In a sense, everyone is part of the public health workforce.