Not a typical National Public Health Week
By Mary Wade Triplett
Usually at Monongalia County Health Department, we have a little reception to celebrate all that public health does.
This year, we’re too busy for cake. We’re working seven days a week on a huge variety of tasks, such as contact tracing for anyone diagnosed with COVID-19. That means that in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we go back 48 hours before someone’s diagnosis to learn about any contacts who should be warned of potential illness. And as part of active surveillance, we make contact daily to check on the well-being and any symptoms of those with COVID-19.
We’re also organizing procurement of supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), and then delivering them to those who need it, such as EMS workers, firefighters, hospitals, nursing homes and home health care facilities.
We’re conducting (virtual) meetings with representatives from hospitals, schools, law enforcement, EMS and others to coordinate plans and messaging.
We’re handling more media calls than we usually get, including from national publications and news services in addition to our usual community outlets. We’re constantly issuing press releases and posting on social media to get the latest news out to our followers. We’ve also issued several orders for people to follow. These can be found here.
MCHD employees whose jobs usually entail cleaning teeth or weighing babies are now helping out with phone calls, meeting minutes, daily employee fever checks, assembling baskets of PPE and anything else that needs done.
It’s all hands on deck… with additional of members of West Virginia National Guard, an emergency department nurse that has been hired to handle COVID-19 phone calls and more.
It’s exhausting, especially for those who are working just about every day, often into the evenings. That includes our county health officer, our regional epidemiologist and our nursing, environmental and threat preparedness program managers.
And just like the general population, the COVID-19 pandemic can make us uneasy. Until there is a vaccine and approved anti-viral treatments, we practice social distancing, wear masks and stay at home except for essential jobs and tasks.
It is comforting to look at past public health victories. A recent one is HIV/AIDS. Like COVID-19, HIV is a virus. In the 1980s, panic ensued when illness struck that would go on to kill as many as 1.1 million people worldwide. Then the number of AIDS-related deaths decreased dramatically after effective antiretroviral therapies were introduced.
Then there was the polio virus. At its peak, in the 1940s and 1950s, polio would paralyze or kill more than half a million people worldwide every year. The first polio vaccine was given in 1955 and by 1979, the disease was declared eliminated in the United States.
Right now, there are scientists and researchers working on a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as treatments. Timelines vary on when a vaccine might be developed and ready to administer. There are multiple companies testing their product, but none are currently approved.
Monongalia County Health Department will be doing our part to guide our community through this pandemic with the support of county leadership as the scientists continue to search for breakthroughs.
And so, during next year’s National Public Health Week, we hope to be able to celebrate once again with cake, perhaps gathered in a room where we are not each sitting at least six feet apart.
In the meantime, we need to practice social distancing, stay at home as much as possible, wear a mask or face covering in public and persevere. The surge of infected patients is predicted to come in the next week or so and what we do now to prevent disease spread will have a huge impact on how we fare.