This article discusses the interdisciplinary functions of public health, the effects of legacy systems and policies on the sector’s response to COVID-19, and identifies priority areas for future health needs.
Community Assessment and Engagement
Community assessment is a systematic process by which a community’s health status and related factors are examined; it is used to identify problems and assets in a community. Through community engagement, stakeholders work together to address health-related issues and promote well-being with the goal of improving health outcomes. These two processes work hand-in-hand to facilitate health improvements. COVID-19 has changed the assessment landscape in many ways–introducing new challenges for engagement, upending pre-pandemic implementation plans, and necessitating new and updated data to understand emerging health impacts and needs.
Public Health Authority
The authority to act to protect and promote the public's health has emerged over the course of our Nation’s history, and has enabled many of modern public health’s greatest achievements. Today, public health agencies use their authority to promote health, prevent the spread of infectious disease, protect against environmental hazards, advance equity and assure local public health infrastructure and health services. During declared emergencies, state and federal authorities have broader powers to act to assist governments, suspend or modify legal requirements, pass and enforce law and expend funds for the health, safety and welfare of society. Recently, some states have moved to limit public health powers. Such efforts pose a mounting challenge for public health’s response to COVID-19 and future threats.
Public Health Workforce Development and Diversity
The public health workforce plays an essential role in securing the vital conditions for health and well-being for all to thrive. A skilled, resourced, and robust public health workforce is needed to meet the demands of public health today and prepare for the needs of tomorrow. A diverse public health workforce is better equipped to address the needs of the most impacted and marginalized, and implement population health strategies. COVID-19 has shed light on challenges facing the public health workforce, while also exacerbating them. The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the need to skill up the workforce; support workers’ needs; center equity in workforce development efforts; and plan for the future.
Vaccination is one of public health’s most successful tools for preventing and controlling the spread of infectious diseases and, increasingly, cancers and chronic diseases too. Immunization is an effective and cost-efficient strategy that prevents sickness and death in all age groups and saves billions of dollars each year. The COVID-19 epidemic and recent outbreaks of measles and other preventable infectious diseases underscore the importance of vaccines and sustaining high vaccination rates. Work is needed to ensure that people of all ages receive a complete series of the vaccines they need.