THIS YEAR HAS BROUGHT TWO SEISMIC PUBLIC HEALTH EVENTS. One, the worst pandemic in more than a century, has laid bare our nation’s decades-long failure to adequately invest in public health. The other, a long-overdue reckoning with structural racism, casts a harsh light on an ongoing moral failing that has stained our society for centuries — with consequences that are magnified by COVID-19.
Although we know that few professions can match the impact of public health, in normal times many of our efforts fall under the radar — our focus is on health promotion and disease prevention, and it can be hard for people to recognize what has kept them from becoming sick. But COVID-19 has put public health squarely in the spotlight, and Fielding School faculty and alumni continue to serve as trusted leaders through their research, community partnerships, civic engagement, and training, and by keeping the public informed. A team of faculty and students produced “Breaking the Chain of Infection,” a regularly updated web information portal about COVID-19 prevention presented in six languages, and our faculty experts have been featured in more than 8,500 news stories, ensuring that accurate, timely, and responsible information is shared. Critical efforts led by Fielding School faculty have made regular COVID-19 testing available to frontline health care workers and first responders, while research addressing important questions about physical, mental, and emotional repercussions of the coronavirus will continue to inform policy. Through the California Connected COVID-19 Virtual Training Academy, our faculty, students, and recent alumni are co-leading the effort to train thousands of new contact tracers for California.
The structural racism that is so deeply entrenched in our society since its earliest days represents a public health crisis of much longer standing, providing fuel for the inequities so central to the health disparities that persist. It is clear that we in public health must be more proactive in not just documenting racism’s harmful effects, but in dismantling the forces that perpetuate them. In this issue you will hear from Professor Chandra Ford, founding director of FSPH’s Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health. The center’s important work has been at the forefront of ensuring that racism is understood as a public health issue. Our magazine also features the voices of faculty experts on xenophobia in the age of COVID-19 and how structural racism is contributing to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic.
As our field of public health moves front and center during these historic times, we at the Fielding School are committed to using our platform to contribute to the changes that will produce a healthier and more equitable society.