This story originally ran on NACCHO’s Essential Elements.
Whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow when he emerges on Groundhog Day, spring is on its way and summer won’t be far behind. Along with beach trips and backyard barbecues, summer also brings environmental health risks from mosquitoes and ticks, recreational water activities, extreme heat, storms, and more.
Here are a few ways local environmental health professionals can start planning now to be fully prepared when the temperatures start rising:
Mosquitoes and ticks are more than just a nuisance for outdoor enthusiasts; they can spread deadly diseases and pose a serious public health threat. Tickborne diseases hit a record high in the United States in 2017 with nearly 60,000 reported cases, including 42,743 cases of Lyme disease. Cases decreased in 2018 but are still significantly higher than they were in the early 2000s.
Vector control is a growing challenge across the country because of climate change, which is transforming more and more regions into hospitable breeding grounds for ticks and mosquitoes. Rising temperatures also mean these tiny creatures are active throughout more of the year.
Even if vector control is not a focus in your community during the winter, there is plenty you can do now to be ready for warmer weather.
“This is the time of year that you look back at last year’s results and look for gaps in supplies, maintenance, or planning,” says Phil Maytubby, Director of Public Health Protection at the Oklahoma City-County Health Department. “Check your traps and sprayers, plan your budgets, collaborate with your local partners, and look for current research on your area.”
Peter Tripi, Senior Public Health Sanitarian at the Erie County, NY Department of Health, highlights the importance of education. “Start working on educational press releases that you can put out immediately when the season starts or if an event happens,” says Tripi. He also advises reviewing your website and other educational tools (e.g., Erie County’s “Fight One Yard at a Time” series on mosquitoes, ticks, and rats) to ensure all materials are organized and updated.
Additionally, both Maytubby and Tripi recommend making sure staff are fully trained and ready to go. As Maytubby says, “there is always room for improvement!”
From 2000–2014, 493 outbreaks associated with treated recreational water caused at least 27,219 cases and eight deaths in the United States. Many people look for relief from the summer heat at their local pool, so keeping pools clean and safe is key to a healthy summer.
While indoor pools, spas, and hot tubs may be open year-round, many jurisdictions have seasonal outdoor pools and water parks that make summer a particularly busy time.
Take advantage of any winter lull by making the following preparations recommended by Marty Thompson, Environmental Health Supervisor in the Division of Environmental Health at the Fairfax County Health Department:
- Review and assess issues and trends from the previous year.
- Review and update forms and resource documents, including application forms, inspection forms, and associated marking instructions.
- Prepare topics and dates for pre-season industry and pool operator meetings.
- Review staff caseloads and assignments.
- Review, update, and coordinate staff training.
- Complete staff equipment and test kit inventory.
- Meet with your public information officer to discuss and prepare a public messaging plan.
Want a deeper dive into pool safety? See NACCHO’s recent report on pool code updates and use of the Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) in local jurisdictions here, and sign up for the next MAHC Network webinar here.
2019 was the second-hottest year on record, and the summer months are likely to continue heating up across the country. Extreme heat can affect health in many different ways, including triggering heat stroke and respiratory problems.
While the winter chill makes it hard to imagine the hot summer sun beating down, now is an ideal time to review your extreme heat plans, says Erin Polich, Senior Program Manager in the Office of Public Health Preparedness at the Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC). When reviewing your plans, Polich recommends identifying and updating health heat thresholds, risk groups (based on location, demographics, etc.), communication materials, and your outreach/engagement strategy.
If you conducted any after action reviews following extreme heat events in the last couple years, review any key takeaways or recommendations. Now is also the time to set a cross-agency initial coordination meeting for early spring.
In 2019, BPHC used a NACCHO climate and health adaptation grant to translate extreme temperature fact sheets in an effort to reach all residents. Learn more about how BPHC prepares for extreme temperature here, and see the extreme heat fact sheets here.
Over the last 40 years, the United States has sustained $1.75 trillion of damage from nearly 260 major weather and climate disasters. In 2019 alone, communities across the country endured 14 disasters costing at least $1 billion each, including major inland floods, severe storms, and tropical cyclones.
Summer storms can significantly affect environmental health, with water quality issues arising from flooding, food safety concerns from power outages, and more. Making sure the entire health department is prepared for severe storms is crucial before the warm weather hits.
Karen Street, Assistant Community Health Nursing Director and Public Health Preparedness Coordinator at the Florida Department of Health in Brevard County, advises coordination of staff trainings and updating emergency duty staffing rosters. Public information officers should meet with partners to strategize emergency messaging, and other partner meetings should be scheduled with hospitals, durable medical equipment suppliers, etc.
Street also recommends encouraging staff to update their own emergency plans for themselves, family, and pets.
Are you prepared?
How is your local health department getting ready for summer? Let us know in the comments, and visit our website to learn more about NACCHO’s environmental health resources.