Public Health employees take their jobs to protect the health and safety of Idahoans very seriously, even when Idaho isn’t in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Public health practitioners look after our health and safety in Idaho through a range of services that include, but are not limited to, maternal and child health, immunizations, chronic and communicable diseases surveillance and intervention, food safety regulation, environmental health, emergency medical services licensing, vital records administration (including birth and death records), rural healthcare provider recruitment, laboratory services, and bioterrorism preparedness. They also record and compile health statistics, so we have some historical context for what makes us sick or unwell.
Public health programs and services promote healthy lifestyles and prevention activities while monitoring and intervening in disease transmission and health risks as a safeguard for Idahoans. Public health activities largely go unnoticed until there is a crisis like this COVID-19 pandemic.
I am very proud of the work we are doing at the state and local levels to help keep Idaho healthy and safe, for both COVID-19 response and non-COVID activities.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local public health have been working collaboratively to respond. Public health at the state level works with and supports the locals as they manage the pandemic response. When the state issues guidelines and protocols, they have been developed in close coordination with the health districts.
In Idaho, there are seven local public health districts that support all 44 counties. Each local public health district is its own quasi-state government entity overseen by a local board of health. The boards appoint the district directors to oversee the public health services for the counties in their districts. They and their staff live in the communities they serve and are vested in and care about the people in those communities.
It’s important that Idahoans understand the roles and responsibilities of public health, so they can support that work and help to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our state.
One example of Idahoans supporting the work of public health is contact tracing – a critical piece of COVID-19 response. If you were exposed to a person who tested positive for COVID-19, local public health staff will attempt to reach out to you. They are not trying to track you or find out your deepest secrets. They want to find out if you’re feeling sick so they can help you determine if it’s COVID-19 and help you get the care you need and keep you from infecting others.
Other examples of support include wearing a face covering in public places, maintaining six feet of physical distance between you and others in public, and proper hand hygiene.
Public health also takes very seriously our job to slow the spread of the disease, ensure our healthcare system is healthy and prepared, prepare the state for treatment and vaccinations for COVID-19, and educate the public. We don’t enjoy closing businesses or telling people they should wear face coverings or that they can’t visit their loved ones in a nursing home. We don’t enjoy it when we call you to ask you questions about who you’ve spent time with and what your symptoms are, only to have you hang up on us or refuse to even answer the call in the first place.
We don’t enjoy having our own lives disrupted and stressed as members of the same communities in which you live. However, we are doing what is necessary to keep as many people as possible protected from COVID-19.
This virus is new, and there is much we still don’t know about it. We do know that it will be with us until we have an effective vaccine or proven therapeutic treatment or both.
Until then, I implore you to help us help you stay safe and healthy. Please stay home if you’re sick. If you go out in public, wear a face covering and keep six feet between you and everyone else. Wash or sanitize your hands often. If public health has to call you to let you know that someone you spent some time with recently has tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, please answer our calls. We care about you and your loved ones!
Elke Shaw-Tulloch is the administrator of the Division of Public Health and the state’s public health officer.