In virus era, resources must be used wisely

For many years, local public health agencies were viewed by many Americans as centers for anti-smoking campaigns, immunizations for children in low-income families, enforcers of restaurant cleanliness rules and similar activities. Suddenly last winter, all that changed.

Now and probably for many years to come, the term “public health” will be tied solidly to dangerous epidemics such as COVID-19.

Effective local public health agencies have become a matter of life and death. Their longstanding complaints about inadequate funding are receiving new and more favorable attention.

Since 2008, more than 38,000 public health worker jobs have been cut in the United States, Associated Press reporters found. During the past decade, per capita spending on local public health departments has been reduced by 18%.

We suspect that once state legislators get to the point of analyzing government reaction to the COVID-19 epidemic, many will look favorably upon increased funding for local health departments. In doing so, they should consider that simply throwing money at the concern would not be a good idea.

Guarding against outbreaks of emerging diseases such as COVID-19 is not a task that should be dumped on local health departments. Emergency preparedness needs to be a priority for them — but stockpiling resources such as medicine and health care equipment is best left to state and national government agencies.

Funding for local health departments should be increased — but only to the extent needed to prepare them for the next pandemic. Rest assured, there will be one.

Taxpayers’ resources are limited. Demands for them are virtually unlimited. In public health as well as anything else, those resources need to be used wisely.


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