Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

COVID-19: Public Health Preparedness In Focus

MONDAY, MARCH 02, 2020 AS OF 1:00 PM EST

As of today, there have been over 89,000 confirmed cases of  COVID-19 world-wide. The COVID-19 outbreak continues to impact businesses globally: Nike temporarily closed its European headquarters and BMW quarantined roughly 150 employees in Germany as both companies reported an employee that tested positive for COVID-19. The French government has banned large public gatherings, including conventions and conferences, to help curb the spread of the virus. In the United States (US), the number of confirmed cases continues to grow with two reported deaths in Washington, confirmed person-to-person spread in California, and the first person testing positive in New York City. With 86 people infected with COVID-19, health care providers continue to report that there is a low risk of infection in the US. Health Departments across the US are preparing for COVID-19, with New York, for example, developing its own test that will aim to provide more accurate results.

Johns Hopkins CSSE Coronavirus Global Cases Map, as of 3/02/2020 at 1:00 pm EST: link

PUBLIC HEALTH PREPAREDNESS IN THE UNITED STATES

With active outbreaks of COVID-19, Ebola, and influenza (e.g., H1N1), global health security is at risk. Whether they have weak or strong health care systems, countries across the globe are burdened by these diseases that impact many lives as well as economic stability. Here at home, the US suffers from a lack of both prioritization and funding for public health preparedness. As a result, our country is often left in a reactive stance when emerging public health threats strike.

Before the recent discovery of the novel coronavirus, the last time the US prioritized public health preparedness in a meaningful way was in 2014, in response to the Ebola outbreak. That year, Congress appropriated funding for emergency Ebola treatment and prevention measures in the US and in West Africa. Funding was allocated to a variety of activities, including vaccine development, relief for countries most affected by Ebola, and a variety of prevention, preparedness, and response measures for emerging infectious diseases. With this funding, planning activities took place and precautions were implemented, both domestically and internationally, to protect Americans should the worst happen.

Once that Ebola outbreak had run its course without local transmission in the US, however, we did not continue to build upon preparedness measures with the same vigor. Instead, as often happens in the realm of public health, we drifted to a culture of reacting versus preparing and have decreased routine funding over the years. While emergency appropriations – such as the request made to Congress on February 24th for $2.5 billion in emergency funding to respond to COVID-19 – are necessary in the midst of a large outbreak, we know that stronger pre-event funding allows us to better prepare health and medical professionals and mitigate emerging public health threats.

Source: Food and Drug Administration, COVID-19 

With additional funding proposed on February 26th, the national dialogue will continue about allocating resources for COVID-19 response. This action at the national level is but one element as public health, medical, and emergency management professionals at all levels of government are united in taking necessary actions to save lives and minimize disruptions. While our focus now must be the immediate risks, we must also learn from our past and break long-standing patterns of reactive, rather than proactive, preparedness efforts.

Adequate public health funding is often neglected because when public health systems are working, we do not hear about it in the news. In some ways the public health system is a victim to its own success. Decision-makers at all levels of government should consider preparing the country for large scale infectious disease epidemics by funding public health initiatives during “blue skies” in hopes of negating or minimizing requests needed during the response to emerging threats (e.g., SARS, Ebola, COVID-19). 

NPR, “A Guide: How To Prepare Your Home For Coronavirus”
Photo Credit: Max Posner, NPR: link

In order to protect both our country and, as a result, contribute to global health security, it is in our best interest to set aside reserve funding specifically in preparation for infectious disease outbreaks, as well increase funding for key programs such as the Hospital Preparedness Program. Through strengthened program funding and a reserve fund, we would be better equipped to quickly respond to outbreaks. These efforts would contribute to increased readiness to minimize the human and economic impacts from future diseases.

Hagerty public health professionals are armed with the knowledge to help keep you and those around you safe in the event of an outbreak. We can provide your business entity, regardless of size or sphere, with proper continuity plans to keep your operations running through any disaster. Learn more here and contact us for further information about how you can prepare for a public health emergency and other disasters.

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