Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on Public Health
Public health professionals have played an important role in managing infectious diseases over the years. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented this field with certain challenges and drawn attention to areas that need improvement. The impact of the pandemic has illustrated how essential public health is while also helping professionals identify ways to make improvements as needed. For those who are interested in working in this field, the pandemic has led to a growing demand for public health workers. Learning more about public health, including the impact COVID-19 has had on it, can help you understand this field better and determine if it’s the right career path for you.
What Does Public Health Do?
The public health field is responsible for helping individuals and communities improve their health and well-being. This is done in several ways, including promoting healthy lifestyle habits and reducing the risk of injuries. Public health also involves identifying and preventing the spread of infectious diseases among populations ranging from neighborhoods and cities to countries.
Public health professionals use educational initiatives and programs to help communities learn more about healthy living, disease prevention, and injury prevention. Public health officials also recommend policies that promote improved health and well-being to local, state, and national government officials. These efforts in the public health field have led to improvements in many communities, such as clean drinking water, reduced air pollution, safety laws for motor vehicles, better access to nutritious foods, and access to vaccines and other health services.
The public health field promotes health equity as well, which involves improving access to health care in underserved communities. Public health professionals who focus on equity might arrange to have tests for infectious diseases or cancer screenings made more readily available for those who live in underserved communities or implement educational programs on good nutrition and the importance of physical activity.
The Role of Public Health During Pandemics
Public health professionals have an essential role to play when pandemics occur. Since pandemics are often considered public health emergencies, these workers are responsible for educating communities about these diseases, such as how they are spread, who is most at risk, and what steps to take to reduce the risk of catching these diseases. For example, local public health professionals implement emergency preparedness plans and provide assistance to those in underserved populations. These public health professionals also work with state and national public health officials during pandemics to ensure that state and national policies or laws are followed.
During pandemics, public health officials have helped slow or stop the spread of diseases in local communities and entire countries. These efforts have prevented many of these diseases from causing even greater harm to the public. For example, public health professionals played a crucial role in encouraging people to get the polio vaccine in the 1950s and 1960s, which helped eliminate this disease in the U.S.
Why Is COVID a Public Health Issue?
The new coronavirus, or COVID-19, was identified in late 2019 and was considered a public health emergency in many parts of the world a few months later. The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020. The ability of COVID to spread easily and quickly among individuals made it a public health issue. For older individuals or those with compromised immune systems, this illness caused a higher risk of serious complications and death. Public health officials moved quickly to educate the public on COVID-19 based on the latest information available, such as how to reduce the spread of this disease and how people could protect themselves from getting it.
Since COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus, epidemiologists and other public health workers had to learn as much as they could, as quickly as possible. This information led to a better understanding of how COVID spreads from person to person, which individuals face the highest risk of death or serious complications, and how to prevent it from spreading.
Public Health Successes During COVID
Public health took immediate action to slow the spread of COVID when this disease was declared a pandemic. Public health officials recommended several ways to reduce the spread of this disease and help individuals protect themselves based on the information they had at the time. For example, public health departments encouraged people to wash their hands often, wear masks when out in public, and avoid large gatherings. When public health officials still had limited information on COVID, lockdowns and quarantines were strongly recommended to reduce community spread. This included having non-essential businesses close and having essential businesses take steps to protect employees and the public from COVID. As more information became available about COVID, public health officials updated guidance on preventing this disease.
The development of vaccines to protect against severe illness from COVID were another public health success. While public health professionals had to deal with vaccine hesitancy and other issues, vaccine rollouts in many communities were successful. The high numbers of vaccines given in some areas helped slow the spread of COVID.
The difficulties and challenges that public health professionals have had to deal with during COVID have revealed opportunities to make changes that improve public health and well-being, especially in underserved communities. While the pandemic has put public health shortcomings in the spotlight, it also provided an opportunity for officials and other professionals in the field to address problems and improve health care equity.
Challenges for Public Health During COVID
Despite the many successes of public health during the pandemic, there have been major challenges. Public health workers who provide patient care have been leaving the field due to burnout from working long hours and caring for a larger number of patients. Some public health workers have left the field due to unsafe working conditions, such as lacking personal protective equipment (PPE). Public health care workers faced challenges while working with patient’s families in understanding the restrictions with seeing their loved ones. Improvements to public health working conditions helps prevent burnout among these health care providers.
Other challenges for the public health field during COVID have included vaccine hesitancy and inadequate testing and contact tracing. The challenges plagued public health departments in many communities from the early days of the pandemic through the various waves. With vaccines available, public health workers have had to deal with countering misinformation about them, such as misconceptions about the risks of getting these vaccines or their efficacy.
Public health challenges during COVID have also included the issue of health inequity. Populations in underserved communities experienced higher rates of COVID infection, as well as hospitalizations and deaths due to this illness. Public health departments will need to work on finding better ways to educate people in these communities about COVID and ensure that they have access to testing and treatment.
Key Public Health Jobs During COVID
While the public health field overall has played a crucial part in handling the pandemic, certain jobs have been needed. Epidemiologists have been called on to conduct research on COVID and learn more about this disease to improve treatment methods, come up with prevention strategies, and find ways to protect the most vulnerable populations. Community health workers have also been an important part of helping the public understand more about COVID, including how to protect themselves and how to protect others. Other key public health jobs during the pandemic have included health educators, biostatisticians, community service managers, and public health nurses.
Demand for Public Health Workers
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a significant increase in demand for public health workers. One such worker is an epidemiologist, who investigates infectious diseases and identifies ways to prevent them from spreading. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the predicted job growth for epidemiologists is 30 percent through 2030, which is much higher job growth than average for all U.S. careers. The need for these public health workers comes from the COVID pandemic and the need to identify and handle future pandemics.
While epidemiologists focus on research, other public health workers mainly work on promoting healthy living and disease prevention in communities. These public health professionals, which include health education specialists and community health workers, are also facing increased job growth. The BLS states that the job outlook for these workers through 2030 is 17 percent, which is also considerably higher than the average job outlook for all careers.
The demand for public health workers also includes a growing demand for those who have advanced degrees. A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Health Planning and Management showed an increase in job postings for public health graduates with master’s degrees during the pandemic compared to before the pandemic. The study found that certain types of careers in the public health field have had faster increases in hiring, including epidemiology, computer-related positions, clinical trial and research program management, and community health. This demand for public health workers reflects the continuing need for disease prevention, as well as a need to help communities recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.