It’s time to honor our public health professionals | Editorial
If you are looking for a job that requires rigorous scientific qualifications, pays less than you might expect elsewhere, and is sure to inspire derision from the people you serve, may we suggest a career in public health.
Last week, as we entered a new, less restrictive phase of the pandemic, San Mateo County Health Department Chief Louise Rogers released a statement essentially announcing that she and her team of heroes would be returning to their usual role. Instead of issuing executive orders and imposing safety measures, she said, her team would “revert to the more traditional role of public health.” It means the endless effort to maintain a balance between the risks of our environment and our “freedom” to do what we want, when we want.
You don’t have to read very deeply between the lines of Rogers’ Feb. 15 post to see we’re not out of the woods yet — despite the end of the statewide mask mandate and the fact that many of us are more than ready to return to our pre-pandemic socializing petri dish.
She acknowledges that the decision to relax regulations “land differently” for different people, depending on their own level of risk, etc. And she unequivocally states that the risk continues for all of us to one degree or another.
The level of transmission is still considered high. At last check, 382 San Mateo County residents tested positive for COVID-19 each day. While that’s down nearly 80% from early January numbers, it’s not zero. When Rogers wrote his letter, at least 55 people were in local hospitals due to the virus. More than 924,000 Americans had died from COVID-19; 83,231 of them in California.
Even so, on a per capita basis, California fared better than most states. The death rate of states like Mississippi (388 per 100,000 population) is approaching double that of California (209 per 100,000 population). This aligns with public health efforts like those led by Rogers that promoted vaccines, social distancing, mask mandates and the closure of certain public spaces when transmission was particularly high. In San Mateo County, 82% of residents are fully immunized. Over 400,000 of us have even received the booster.
Public servants like Rogers and health worker Dr. Scott Morrow have worked tirelessly under impossible circumstances to stop us from killing each other by spreading this virus. For their efforts, they have drawn scorn and even death threats in many communities. Kaiser Health News and The Associated Press reported earlier this month that more than 180 top state and local public health officials have resigned or been fired in the past 10 months – the largest exodus from the profession. of American history.
We owe Rogers, Morrow and their entire team a debt of gratitude. In fact, there should be a parade in their honor when it’s sure to be one again. Failing that, we should commit to fully funding our public health services and giving these scientists and health professionals the respect they have earned over the past two years. They and their colleagues have saved millions of lives.
— Lambert Clay