The COVID-19 pandemic has been the longest pandemic in the history of the United States. Because of this, it is important for local health departments (LHDs) to take the time to reflect on their response efforts and ask what went well and what needs to be addressed for future public health emergencies.
NACCHO, in collaboration with the Center for Public Health Innovation at CI International (CPHI) and through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Division of Birth Defects and Infant Disorders, invited LHD directors and staff to provide insight into their health department’s COVID response by participating in one of two hotwash sessions.
The goal of the hotwash sessions were to 1) identify the strengths and/or weaknesses of the collaboration between maternal and child health (MCH), infectious disease, and emergency preparedness, 2) identify strategies and tools developed during the pandemic that should be utilized in the future, and 3) identify necessary protocols so that LHDs can ensure pregnant people and infants have access to needed support during the next pandemic.
Key themes that emerged from the hotwash sessions that made the COVID public health response unique included:
- Length of the pandemic
- Spread of misinformation, and
- Politicization of the COVID public health response.
These overarching themes led to several challenges for LHDs including changes in staffing, decline in staff mental health, increased need for and reliance on external partners, expansion and adaptation of communication and outreach strategies, and degradation of the public’s trust in public health.
Hotwash participants emphasized the importance of LHDs conducting their own hotwashes, or After-Action Reviews (AARs), to ensure lessons learned are not lost and mistakes are not repeated in future pandemics. LHDs should use the lessons learned to create or update their emergency preparedness plans.
The identified key findings from the hotwash sessions will inform NACCHO’s technical assistance and development of tools and resources to support LHDs in serving their MCH populations. Furthermore, the identified lessons learned can inform the response to a future pandemic, local public health crisis, or any situation that calls for the reorganization of staff in a way that threatens MCH programming. Access the full report here.