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In a commentary co-authored by distinguished professor of health policy and management Dr. Jonathan Fielding and published by the Public Health Institute the authors state that local public health officials deserve the protection and support of those who appointed them, and of those they serve.
In the mid-1800s, John Snow traced a local cholera outbreak in Soho, London back to the community water pump. Local officials dismissed him. They refused to adopt his recommendations and called his report nonsense. In the face of derision and disbelief, he still moved forward. He convinced local officials—whether they believed the evidence or not—to try removing the Broad Street pump handle. He ended one of the worst cholera epidemics in local history, and modern-day epidemiology was born.
Disbelief and harsh words are nothing new to public health officials, nor even threats of violence. It wasn’t unheard of for AIDS epidemiologists in the 80s, or for reproductive health practitioners today, to wear bulletproof vests on their way to work. But in this moment, our local public health officials face a double challenge: responsibility for managing the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, and a politicization of their work that puts their own lives and the health of their communities at risk.
We stand with our local public health officials. It is imperative that as a nation we stand with science and public health.