Public health leaders nationwide have been faced with unprecedented challenges due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. State and local health agencies have been working nonstop to respond to the crisis, while some hospitals have had to contend with an influx of patients and limited personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns.
Some jurisdictions have imposed “Shelter in Place” orders for their residents in an effort reduce the spread of COVID-19. In my jurisdiction in Tyler, Texas, and Smith County, Texas, we implemented a “Stay At Home” order, including suspension of public events, closure of city and county facilities, and limited service of our public transit system. We spent a great deal of time discussing and explaining the definition of “Essential Community Services.” We encouraged our residents to practice “physical distancing” and “social connectivity,” and to follow guidelines from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in an effort to keep themselves, their families, and coworkers safe.
During this time of uncertainty, public health professionals who are spearheading COVID-19 response efforts may need to adapt their leadership approach. A recent article from JPHMP Direct provides considerations for adaptive public health leadership during the outbreak. The article mentions “central elements of leadership practice” that should be considered, including situational awareness, decision–making, communication, and energy.
Communication is key during a time like this. Communities often look to their public health leaders for guidance in times of a crisis. I urge public health leaders to continue to provide clear, consistent, timely, and accurate messaging to their staff and the public. Leaders should also be actively monitoring the situation and be able to provide updates to the media and other stakeholders when called upon.
NACCHO is committed to supporting its stakeholders by frequently sharing information to help protect the public, being responsive to member needs and requests, and conveying the important role of local health departments during outbreaks and other public health emergencies. NACCHO is working closely with the Association of Public Health Laboratories, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists communicate accurate and timely information to members.
NACCHO has also updated the COVID-19 dashboard in the COVID-19 Data Lab to allow users to view the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases within the context of their county’s overall population, highlighting “hot spots” where the number of cases is high compared to the population. The data dashboard has also been updated for users to view the rise in confirmed cases within the last 30 days. Finally, data can now be viewed down to the local health department jurisdictional boundary; however, please note that, particularly for city or multi-city health departments, data may not include accurate case counts in those states not reporting data to the zip code level. Together, these updates offer more informative, meaningful insights into the current state of COVID-19 in local jurisdictions and can be used to inform official decisions on easing stay-at-home orders and re-opening local economies.
Public health leaders will need to frequently assess the current situation, as response efforts are constantly evolving. It will take a coordinated effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and save lives. Please remember, we are truly in this together and this is now a team sport. Everyone has a role to play and our collaborative efforts will help up all to get through this. I’m incredibly proud of each of you as you have worked tirelessly to protect your communities. Blessings to you and your families during this challenging time, and please keep up your outstanding work!