A public health perspective on the Coronavirus pandemic.

Mar 20, 2020

Dear Friends of Public Health Advocates, 

Having worked in public health for 30 years, I’d like to share my public health perspective on the Coronavirus pandemic … sitting here in my home office, in physical isolation like most of you.

History. When great epidemics periodically strike, public health comes front and center. In the 1980s there was AIDS. In the 1950s, polio. In 1918, the flu. A rapid response by the international public health community – often lead by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – allowed the U.S. to dodge some bullets: we escaped Ebola, SARs, and H1N1. It would be natural to expect, then, that we’d always dodge the next one. But that’s not the way it works. See some additional information about the Coronavirus below my signature line.

Equity. When we do have to brave these epidemics, it is often the same communities that already experience health disparities that are hardest hit: those lacking health insurance, without fat savings accounts, immigrant families, people of color, homeless, or LGBTQI communities. Disadvantaged communities will face the challenges of this pandemic compounded by the ones they already face daily. (I will write more about this in the future.)

Will we do what’s needed? The good news is that we know the cause of the epidemic, treatments are being tested, vaccines are being developed, and we know how to stop its spread. Our biggest challenges will be social and economic: can we rally the resources to ensure health care access for everyone, and the economic support for those most harmed by layoffs and business closures?

The BIG QUESTION. As I sit here, what I’m most wondering about is this: Might this time of great disruption provide an opportunity to shift our way of life so that humanity and our planet can survive and even thrive? Haven’t we all been wondering what it will take to save our planet and exit this horrifying period of divisiveness, insensitivity, and disregard for science?  

  • This could be the rare moment when carbon emissions drop worldwide – can we maintain that?
  • Health care for everyone will be imperative to stop to the spread of the virus – can we maintain that, too?
  • As we find ways to mitigate the harm of temporary social isolation, can we find ways to connect in a high-tech world where people are increasingly isolated?
  • Might we use this time to develop systems that bring out the best of who we are and recognize our common humanity?

At Public Health Advocates we are committed to this positive vision for our future. While addressing the immediate challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic, let’s also work together to develop policies, systems, and norms that will sustain us in the long run. 

Harold Goldstein, DrPH
Executive Director

Download a pdf version of “Important Facts about Coronavirus” here.

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