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In the midst of the most severe public health crisis of our lifetime, it’s especially poignant that this week is National Public Health Week. Created to educate and raise awareness about public health, National Public Health Week is a chance to have frank conversations about our current public health system and practice.

In addition to the direct threat of COVID-19,  in the throes of this epidemic many of the hallmarks of what make us healthy – like mental health, housing, good food, and exercise – have become increasingly threatened. This is especially true for our most vulnerable populations. As we think about what we can do to make sure everyone has the best chance to live a long and healthy life, we must acknowledge the importance of a strong public health system.

Keeping us Healthy Behind The Scenes

Public health is tough to convey tangibly because it encompasses so much. It often operates behind the scenes. Anything you need to stay healthy, like access to food or washing your hands, falls within public health. In the middle of a pandemic like COVID-19, public health becomes even more noticeable, and more essential.

Public Health Heroes

The New York City Department of Health is our first defense against threats to public health. In our fight against COVID-19, we are so grateful for our first responders, healthcare workers, and other essential personnel. We must also celebrate the efforts of the city’s public health workforce – the epidemiologists, public health lab technicians, and the data analysts. These heroes  “in the trenches” support the front lines to reduce the impact of COVID-19.

Public health surveillance alerted us to the first rumblings of this crisis, and sounded the alarm for city officials. Continued analysis of the data helps us understand how this virus spreads, and the measures that must be taken to contain it. The Health Department performs a wide range of essential tasks, like testing for COVID-19, tracking and fulfilling requests for PPE, providing guidance on how to self-isolate and stay safe, and creating evidence-based recommendations for clinical providers.  Without public health, this epidemic would be much worse.

A Future Where Public Health is Recognized and Prioritized

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the importance of strong public health systems and what inevitably happens if we are not prepared. We are seeing the devastating impact of COVID-19 every day. When we don’t invest in public health for all, disparities in income and access to resources further marginalize populations that are struggling. 

With long term investment in public health on a national scale, many of the challenges we’re facing right now – shortages of ventilators, millions without health insurance, increasingly hazardous conditions for low-wage but essential workers – could have been minimized. Investment in public health systems is essential year-round, as a preventative measure, to keep these scenarios from ever happening in the first place.

Looking Ahead

This National Public Health Week, we should all reflect on the value of public health to our lives. Let’s recognize just how much public health does to keep us safe. We must ensure that everyone has access to both a healthy environment in which to live, and is supported by a strong, national public health system. 

As the nonprofit partner to the Health Department, FPHNYC is directing donations to its Epidemics Fund to the COVID-19 response.