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Emerging Leaders in Public Health respond to COVID-19 in local communities

COVID-19, Health

Public health is local. No matter what is happening around the globe, it comes down to what is happening in our community today.

In our communities, state and local public health departments work invisibly behind the scenes to keep us all healthy. We rely on their knowledge, experience and professionalism daily for the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat – and they keep threats at bay.

But we never rely on them more than in a time of crisis.

In urgent efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, local health departments are telling us about the importance of personal hygiene and the precise steps involved. They are advising us on how to minimize the spread of the virus in our homes, workplaces and wherever we gather. They are telling us not to gather in large numbers anywhere. And they are constantly adapting their recommendations to a fast-changing situation.

Since 2015, The Kresge Foundation’s Emerging Leaders in Public Health program has helped more than 100 professionals from county and local health departments across the U.S. become stronger leaders and transform the role of public health departments in their communities.

From sharing guidance so residents can stay informed to setting up testing sites, our ELPH grantee partners at health departments around the country are on the front lines of the fight against the virus.

ELPH Leadership Team:
Patty Hayes, director of public health
Carina Elsenboss, preparedness director

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Patty Hayes gives an update on COVID-19 during a briefing on March 4.

King County in Washington State is at the epicenter of the nation’s COVID 19 disease outbreak. Patty Hayes, the director of public health – Seattle and King County (PHSKC), is working with other local, regional and state officials on the science-based response for both containment and community mitigation strategies that are needed in the community to slow the spread of the COVID-19.

Together, they have put enormous effort into keeping the public informed on the progress of the epidemic. PHSKC has established a COVID-19 blog page with daily updates on current cases, what to do if you develop symptoms, who should be tested and where to go to get tested and what social behaviors can help reduce the disease spread. The blog also includes a link to its COVID-19 homepage where information is being shared in 11 languages.

PHSKC, along with the state, has begun more aggressive community mitigation strategies to try and blunt the rate of infection in the community such as prohibiting large community events. Based on its experience with past disease outbreaks, PHSKC has been working in coordination with the King County Incident Management Team to establish emergency isolation facilities applying best practices to this new situation. Conversations between PHSKC and other officials are happening on a daily basis in order to ensure guidance is timely, appropriate and effective.

ELPH Leadership Team:
Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, Health Department director
Julian Drix, Asthma Control Program manager

In response to the situation developing internationally, the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) activated its Incident Command System response on January 31, 2020. This type of response is how RIDOH and other state agencies prepare for and respond to a public health emergency that requires extensive coordination.

RIDOH activated staff across the Department and is collaborating with staff from the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services; the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency; the Rhode Island National Guard; the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities, and Hospitals; the Rhode Island Department of Human Services; the Rhode Island Department of Education, the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on it response effort targeted at different sectors.

RIDOH is working with the health care system to provide clinical guidance on visiting hour policies, evaluating patients, testing and reporting cases. They are also working together to survey personal protective equipment supplies and review plans for increased patient volume.

RIDOH is working with businesses to develop guidance that helps the public and private sectors ensure they can operate with adaptations like telework and flexible sick leave policies. Finally, RIDOH is communicating with a wide range of community partners across the state including schools; universities; Women, Infants, and Children agencies; businesses; faith- and community-based organizations.

Underlying these efforts is a strong commitment to public health communications. RIDOH closely follows U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance and distributes this guidance quickly to relevant groups and sectors. To ensure that RIDOH is coordinating as closely as possible with CDC officials managing the COVID-19 response at the national level, a five-person team from the CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS) has been embedded at RIDOH.

To learn more, visit RIDOH’s COVID-19 web page.

ELPH Leadership Team:
Stacey Flanagan, director
Linda Ivory-Green, director, Division of Community Health and Wellness

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the Health and Human Services Department in Jersey City, New Jersey has been working together with local officials to establish rules and protocols to help stop the spread of the virus.

Jersey City was among the first in the country to close non-essential businesses such as bars, movie theaters and nail salons to protect the health and safety of residents.

Its staff are currently working around the clock to help hospitals stay stocked with equipment and supplies, assist with the county’s testing center and respond to questions on a local hotline set up to educate the public in five languages. There are plans underway to create municipal testing center.

Meals on Wheels service has been transitioned to FedEx delivery, and the Health and Human Services Department is also working in conjunction with Hudson County officials to secure three local hotels as temporary housing for chronic homeless in Jersey City to assist them in self-quarantine, and also to serve an isolation setting for those who have tested positive for the virus.

The department has created a page for updates, as well as a site for mental health resources, To get live updates, follow the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services on Twitter @HealthierJC.

ELPH Leader: Patricia Boswell, administrator

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Patricia Boswell speaks to local leaders in Florida about COVID-19.

The highest priority for Patricia Boswell, the health officer and administrator for the Florida Department of Health – Volusia County (FDOHVC), is slowing the spread of COVID-19 and ensuring anyone who is potentially infected is appropriately identified, cared for and isolated. FDOHVC is actively involved in enhanced surveillance for respiratory illness that may be COVID-19. Its epidemiologists are following up on any suspected cases that meet the criteria for COVID-19 to arrange for testing when needed and monitor the contacts of any confirmed cases, if they occur.

FDOHVC communicates regularly with the public, local governments, schools, health care providers and media with updates on COVID-19. The agency shares CDC COVID-19 guidance documents with its partners and advise that all individuals who have traveled internationally to follow the CDC guidelines.

FDOHVC has taken active measures, urging residents to stay informed on how to protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19 and disseminating information about two key resources being provided by the Florida Department of Health: a dedicated COVID-19 Call Center, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week for questions about the virus and a dedicated COVID-19 webpage that provides up-to-date resource information and guidance regarding COVID-19.

ELPH Leader:
Ying-Ying Goh, M.D., MSHS, director of public health and health office

On March 4, 2020 the City of Pasadena Health Officer Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, declared a local public health emergency. This proactive declaration allowed the City of Pasadena Public Health Department (CPPHD) to accelerate emergency planning, mobilize resources more easily and streamline communications to coordinate agencies across the city. CPPHD is working closely with local, regional, state and federal health officials to conduct surveillance and implement a coordinated response to the outbreak. The agency has increased its capacity to test patients and established protocols with health care providers to ensure that anyone who is eligible gets tested.

CPPHD has posted key information on their website about the COVID-19 disease, including number of local cases, travel recommendations, laboratory testing, and how to prepare and plan for mandated social distancing measures, such as school closures and working from home.

As a racially and ethnically diverse community, CPPHD is sending out a strong message that COVID-19 transmission does not occur at higher rates in one race or ethnic group versus another. The agency is encouraging their community to denounce racist or xenophobic actions or remarks related to the disease outbreak and to follow the guidelines provided on their website, which are based on scientific fact.

ELPH Leadership Team:
Julie Pryde, public health administrator
Awais Vaid, epidemiologist

Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD) has a long history of working together with community, regional, state and national partners on infectious disease outbreaks. Its work to contain the spread of COVID-19 embodies a key aspect of the agency’s mission statement: to provide frank, open and timely communication with its community.

In response to COVID-19, CUPHD began meeting in January with its Regional Emergency Coordinator Group and Infectious Disease Working group. On a community-level, CUPHD has met with every sector to offer guidance, including K-12 schools, long term care facilities, colleges and universities, hospitals and health care organizations, homeless shelters, food service providers, businesses and government agencies.

CUPHD was recently designated as a “COVID-19 Sentinel Test Site” for individuals that are eligible for testing based on a health care provider referral. This will allow CUPHD to identify positive individuals more quickly, enhance its surveillance capacity and implement appropriate measures to contain the spread of the virus. To provide timely information to the public, CUPHD is continuously monitoring websites such as CIDRAP, WHO and CDC for information on up-to-date recommendations and launched a Facebook Group where citizens can pose questions and receive informed answers.

For more information from our grantees and partners that might be helpful to those working to expand opportunity in America’s cities amid this global pandemic, click here.