Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Humboldt’s top public health official has called attention to the need for long-term funding for managing COVID-19 and other infectious diseases.
The likelihood of the lingering presence of coronavirus was highlighted by Michele Stephens, director of the county’s Public Health Branch, during a May 4 Board of Supervisors COVID-19 update.
Vaccines have often been described a means of ending the pandemic, leading people to believe that the last chapter of the coronavirus saga is playing out.
But Stephens suggested that COVID-19 response is in a mid-phase and will continue indefinitely.
“We’re still very much in the middle of this pandemic response,” she told supervisors, adding that although vaccines are providing significant help, “We’re not through this yet – we’re still seeing cases, we’re still seeing hospitalizations.”
The county is getting funding for pandemic response but its continuity is uncertain.
The Public Health Branch has a communicable disease department but Stephens said it’s consistently been under-funded. That will have to change to meet the continuing virus challenge.
“We know that we will continue to have COVID-19 cases in the next one and two years, and ongoing,” said Stephens. “And so, what is that going to look like for us as a health department – we’re looking at our ongoing staffing needs as well and the funding for that.”
Of particular importance is “continued funding addressing the health disparities we see, especially in communities of color in general but also, as we’ve seen, with COVID-19 cases,” she added.
A coalition of counties and health care officials and professionals called California Can’t Wait is lobbying the state for $200 million in annual funding beginning in the 2021 to 2022 fiscal year to improve public health services.
Stephens said that if approved, the funding will bolster “public health infrastructure and addressing the disparities we continue to see across California.”
The hope is that “the legislature and the community sees value in public health and that increased funding, ongoing, for local public health departments is a need,” she continued.