By Michael Hertz
Where have our local elected officials been in the midst of our COVID-19 public health disaster? State Sen. Curt VanderWall who chairs the state senate’s Health Policy and Human Services Committee recently sponsored a bill that would have knee-capped the ability of the state’s public health professionals to effectively do their job.
Instead of legislating to improve our public health infrastructure, Sen. VanderWall did just the opposite. More than 16,000 Michiganders have died due to COVID-19, nearly 700,000 have been infected and our legislature won’t do the simple things to improve public health. Shame on them.
The 26th annual National Public Health Week (@NPHW) began April 5. The theme begins with rebuilding after the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the 20th century, public health programs have brought us unparalleled improvements in living standards and in our quality of life. Just a few examples are the control and/or eradication of vaccine-preventable infectious disease scourges such as polio, smallpox and hepatitis A and B; the reduction in death from tobacco-associated illness and motor vehicle crashes; and the significant reduction in the mortality from colorectal cancer and breast and cervical cancers.
These and other public health success stories directly resulted in significant declines in one or more of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S. in the decade 2001-2009 alone.
All of us benefit from these successes, reaping savings of billions of dollars annually in direct and indirect healthcare costs not to mention the personal emotional costs when our loved ones are affected. These examples illustrate the effective application of core public health tools in relieving the burden of disease, and the power that sometimes even simple public health measures can have improving our lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, removed the curtain from the ugly fact that our public health infrastructure is now woefully inadequate to meet the needs and challenges of 21st century America. We have chronically underfunded federal, state and local public health structures. Michigan now ranks eighth from the bottom in per capita public health funding. We do lead the nation, however, in the rate of daily new cases of COVID-19 — a direct result of our failure to heed simple public health measures, like wearing masks.
Our death rates have already begun to rise.
Sen. VanderWall could have championed public health but he chose not. At every turn he chose to be an adversary of state public health professionals who are tasked with keeping all Michiganders safe. Shame on him.
About the author: Michael Hertz, M.D., is a clinical associate professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and adjunct instructor at the University of Michigan School of Medicine. He has been a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists since 1985.