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Counties commemorate county role in fighting pandemic, call for rebuilding of local public workforce
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated, “May 11, 2023, marks the end of the federal COVID-19 PHE declaration. After this date, CDC’s authorizations to collect certain types of public health data will expire.
“The United States has mobilized and sustained a historic response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a nation, we now find ourselves at a different point in the pandemic – with more tools and resources than ever before to better protect ourselves and our communities.
“CDC has been working for many months to fold the agency’s COVID-19 emergency response activities into its existing structure and programs, as part of an ongoing transition to sustainable public health practice. The agency has also been working with partners, including states and local territories, to prepare for the end of the PHE declaration and communicate updated reporting requirements and cadences.
“While reporting frequency and source data for some metrics will shift when the PHE declaration ends, CDC will continue to report valuable data to inform individual and community public health actions to protect those at highest risk of severe COVID-19. Our priority remains providing the information necessary to protect the nation’s public health.”
On Thursday, The New York State County Executives' Association shared:
As the federal public health emergency declaration for COVID-19 expires on May 11, 2023, the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC) is commemorating the county role in fighting the pandemic while warning of challenges that remain for local governments that continue to experience significant workforce shortages.
“County officials played a crucial role in responding to the public health and economic crisis, working tirelessly to protect residents and preserve our way of life,” said NYSAC President and Clinton County Administrator Michael E. Zurlo. “They kept local services functioning, maintained critical infrastructure, administered elections, provided emergency medical services, and performed other essential jobs, sometimes at great personal sacrifice and risk. For county governments, it truly was both our darkest and finest hour.”
While the end of the public health emergency is a significant milestone, COVID-19 remains a threat. Coronavirus was the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States in 2022, and it will likely remain a leading cause of death in 2023, especially for our most vulnerable residents.
Adding to the lingering threat posed by COVID and other infectious diseases is the significant depletion of the public workforce that counties have suffered in the wake of the pandemic, down 3% (40,000 workers) since March 2020.
The drop has been most acute among local health departments (LHDs). A study conducted by the NYS Public Health Officials Association (NYSACHO) found that New York state’s LHD workforce saw a 26% decline in the number of full-time staff employed between 2019 and 2021. Compounding the existing staff shortage, all LHD respondents, regardless of size, reported high impending retirements, with 990 FTEs (almost 10% of the current workforce) planning to retire within the next three years. Since the start of the pandemic, 31% of LHD leaders (commissioners/directors) have retired or left their departments.
The end of the public health emergency will have tangible consequences for counties’ ability to respond to this threat. Health care providers will have less flexibility, over-the-counter tests will be more difficult to access, telehealth coverage may be limited, and many Americans will see a decrease in social safety net benefits.
“As we close this chapter of the pandemic, we are reminded of the fear, struggle and pain county officials faced every day at the height of the outbreak, and the triumph they experienced in working to protect the public,” NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario said. “Moving forward, counties will continue to innovate and adapt to protect their communities and help them recover from the economic devastation that the pandemic caused. As we honor our local leaders for their courage and dedication in responding to the pandemic, we must also renew our dedication to supporting and strengthening the public workforce, investing in emergency preparedness, and rebuilding trust in our institutions.”