The nation’s underfunded public health system has been further undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic — and is less equipped to confront a pandemic now than it was at the start of 2020, The New York Times reported.
Citing a review of 300 health departments from around the country in all 50 states, the news outlet painted a grim picture of public health figures being criticized and their orders ignored — and their agencies’ funding precarious.
"We have learned all the wrong lessons from the pandemic," Adriane Casalotti, chief of public and government affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, an organization representing the nearly 3,000 local health departments across the nation, told the Times.
"We are attacking and removing authority from the people who are trying to protect us."
According to the Times, its review of departments in all 50 states showed they have had a significant exodus of personnel because of abuse and threats. Dozens of departments reported that they had not staffed up at all even as they lost workers.
About 130 said they did not have enough people to do contact tracing, the Times reported, a key tool in limiting the spread of the virus.
The Times reported it had identified more than 500 top health officials who left their jobs in the past 19 months.
Meanwhile, the Times reported, legislators have approved more than 100 new laws — with hundreds more under consideration — that limit state and local health powers. The overhaul largely gives governors, lawmakers, and county commissioners more power to undo health decisions and undermine everything from flu vaccination campaigns to quarantine protocols for measles, according to the Times.
The news outlet also reported its review noted that segments of the public have turned against agencies, voting in new local government leaders who ran on pledges to rein in public health departments.
For example, the Times reported, commissioners last month appointed a new physician representative to the health board in the Boise region who reportedly advocates unapproved COVID-19 treatments and refers to coronavirus vaccinations as "needle rape."
"We have heard from the voters," one commissioner, Ryan Davidson, told the Times.
Funding is also not permanent, with local health officials likening the COVID-19 funds to the money that flowed into health departments after the 9/11 attacks but then vanished when political priorities changed, the Times reported.
New laws passed in at least 32 states restrict the ability of health officials to impose mask and vaccine mandates, close churches, schools, and businesses, conduct contact tracing, or apply penalties for violating health restrictions, the Times reported.
The Times reported the pandemic has started to reshape the public health work force in ways that could hurt the ability to fight future pandemics.
"Everybody looks at public health now and says, 'Who wants to work there?'" Sue Rhodes, the health department administrator in Marshall County, Kan., told the Times. "Who wants to work in that chaotic mess?"
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