Looking back at the last couple of years, who would have thought that the health of the public could and would be a matter of such scrutiny, misunderstanding and distrust?
But truth be told, noticeable at the beginning and throughout a good period of time during the COVID pandemic, there was a slow start to react, errors were made, and there were changing guidelines and fluctuating rules. This was confusing and disquieting to many, and understandably so.
However, it doesn’t hurt to point out that the disease was clearly evolving, new information came in as data was collected, and, as a result, recommendations were changed.
Also, the country was not prepared for a pandemic of the magnitude of COVID-19. Lack of resources, inadequate staffing, due certainly in part to defunding, but also maybe simple inattention to the potential danger which was not adequately addressed. One doesn’t know when the next pandemic will arrive but strategic preparation is key. It was such a disappointment that relatively simple things such as masks and other protective garb were in such short supply initially. Obviously, adequate preparation is extremely important and we need to do better.
In this ever changing atmosphere, public health departments all around the country were trying their best to educate, recommend, encourage measures to contain the virus, test and vaccinate. But workers were caught in the crossfire. There was pushback in many places and many public health staff were asked to leave their posts, or simply left, some for safety reasons. Everyone I know in the field of public health is in it to help people, and take care of them. They learned community, medical, nursing and environmental things, not how to manage public backlash, even threats. They didn’t have programs to teach them that politics might become a part of everyday public health.
I hope our public health workers know that many people in our county appreciate the work they have done and continue to do every day in support of our community. As we continue to emerge from the COVID pandemic and it becomes easier to see public health in a more balanced way, the thanks to our public health workers should be loud and clear.
Dr. Lillian Vitanza Ney is a Jamestown resident and member of the Chautauqua County Board of Health.