When I first heard about COVID-19, I thought “this is just another H1N1 situation, or bird flu or west Nile virus.” Boy was I wrong, having grown up with these fairly consistent viral outbreaks I shrugged it off. After spending a semester in classes like Epidemiology for Public Health, concurrently with the spread of COVID-19, I became more and more concerned. Reading news stories daily, press releases from the CDC, funny memes on Facebook and my own kids jokes and lightheartedness about this serious pandemic, set me back on my heels. As our spring break was about to end and the announcement that classes were shifting to the online format is when I noticed a drastic change in many people’s attitudes. People were scared, searching for accurate information while actively partaking in the spreading of misinformation. Like most people, I made trips to grocery stores in the beginning stages of the quarantine; stocked up on non-perishables, purchased enough food stuffs to last a few weeks, and yes, toilet paper. My wife transitioned to teleworking and became a voracious consumer of COVID-19 news. She escalated concerns very quickly which challenged my understanding of the crisis by trying to mitigate her anxieties while still maintaining and adequate levels of concern. We are self-isolating, and only leaving the house for food, we take walks through our neighborhood while maintaining 6 feet of separation. Our hygiene habits have been more strictly enforced on the children and we have masks for when we do need to venture out for supplies.
This experience is a fantastic learning tool, as it has not yet passed, and it continues to examine what public health means and how we can improve the systems that we currently have in place. First, its important to identify what went right; despite conflicting information put out by the current governmental administration, different news media outlets and basic word of mouth; the response of individual states and health departments was essential in preparing people for this crisis. I saw public health workers in action, trying to establish accurate infographics and spread information to help people prepare for this pandemic. I witnessed the assistance that is offered in communities in order to ensure that people had access to food and other household necessities when they became scarce. I saw people actively promoting social distancing and attempting to make the change easier for people to embrace. Through the actions that our governor has taken to ease the suffering of so many Kentuckians by being consistently supportive and reassuring. These reactions are what public health means to me, a reactionary service to ensure the general wellbeing of all persons, as well as a preventative network that utilizes science, empathy, and due diligence in ensuring the health of communities. The various presentations from “pillars” of community health, about the access to medical services, and the importance of being able to provide these resources to low income and underprivileged areas. Talks about the misrepresentation of community members in consultation to changes in their communities. It all comes together to form a giant picture with many intricate and varying aspects. Public health is a mosaic of interwoven circuitry, funded by public awareness and desire; and enforced by the people receiving services. This pandemic has shown us, if anything, that the importance of accurate information and the equal dissemination of resources should be at the forefront of all issues, not just health care or medical services but throughout all aspects of our lives. Now more than ever do we as a country need to take stock in what American values truly mean and if there needs to be an adjustment in expectations.
I have seen disgusting behavior from more people than I care too, from downplaying the disease, to actively supporting projected fatalities, from television personalities to political figures. We need to realize that there is a population that is actively destructive towards health equity! This is the direction that public health is headed, promotion of preparedness, to ensure equitable access to resources and the emphasis and dedication to evidence-based claims. We need to take assess our values and dig down deep to recognize our own biases when we face issues like this in the future. We need to recognize the importance of how information is put out and how it is received. I think one of the biggest takeaways from this pandemic will circle around ensuring that people receive accurate, up to date information in a timely manner. The importance of community stewardship and the active involvement to ensure that people have what they need. Equal access to healthcare services that do not revolve around an individual’s income bracket. Public health practice is all for the betterment of people’s health, be that medical, nutritional, mental, economical, physical, environmental, and more, through all levels of the social ecological model! Understanding these multi-layer issues and weaknesses is where the focus needs to be. We need to get on the same page in order to make forward progress. We need to start small and work our way up, because that is how change happens, from the bottom up. Promoting policy that supports the disenfranchised, the poor, the sick and forgotten, the most vulnerable populations of our societies. That is how we change for the better, economic growth and business minded practices are all fine and well however, with this growing divide between the allocation of resources and the people in need of those resources, we can see that those with large resource pools are not the ones supporting our economy. It is the everyday American, white black or brown people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender, working hourly wages in harsh conditions. It is the people with lower socio-economic status who are suffering the most and work the hardest, just to survive. I hope that we as a nation can shift the idea of currency from something to amass, to something to share. It all boils down to, people needing to make a conscious effort to ensure the betterment of those around them, which is public health at its heart.
Undergraduate Student University of Louisville School of Public Health and Information Sciences,