Extraordinary Times Call for Extraordinary Efforts

Gianfranco Pezzino, Director

A Message from the Director of the Center for Sharing Public Health Services

Dr. Samuel Crumbine was a pioneer in public health who practiced medicine in the wild west town of Dodge City, Kansas, in the late 1800s. Later he moved to Topeka and became the first public health officer for the state. At a time when the public did not fully grasp the role of germs in the spread of disease, Dr. Crumbine believed educating the public was essential in combating tuberculosis and other illnesses common at the time. Here are Dr. Crumbine’s thoughts about the Spanish Flu in 1918:

“The epidemic is here. We cannot get away from it, so the thing to do is to take the most effective methods of slowing it down. The history of the disease shows that its virulence depends to a considerable extent upon the rapidity of transmission.

If we can keep folks away from crowds, have them take precautions against the disease, we can extend the period of transmission so that the disease loses its virulence and becomes only a light cold and many are not infected who might take the disease.

A general closing order is the most effective method of slowing down the disease.”

Dr. Crumbine was an extraordinary man, living in extraordinary times. He realized that extraordinary times call for extraordinary efforts.

Today, as we face an extraordinary and unprecedented effort to slow the transmission of COVID-19, public health experts around the world are again on the front lines of a new war. This effort is impacting our daily work in multiple ways and it pulls us away from other important initiatives so that we can focus on this more pressing issue.

Like many of you, staff here at the Center have been pulled away from our daily duties to help in the response efforts. For example, I am Health Officer for Shawnee County, Kansas, where the capital city, Topeka, is located. Normally, it takes just a few hours a week to fulfill those duties; however, I am now fully immersed in that effort, coordinating the response to the pandemic in our county. I have had to make some heart-wrenching decisions in the past few weeks, like when I had to sign an order to close all restaurants, bars and movie theaters in the county. When signing that order, I was painfully aware that I was crippling local businesses and causing neighbors to lose their jobs. I often stay awake at night concerned about the devastation COVID-19 could bring to our most vulnerable citizens, including the homeless and those in nursing homes.

Other staff at the Center also are involved in the response efforts. For example, the Center’s deputy director, Charlie Hunt, in response to a request from the state, is spending a lot of time working in a research support role for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Charlie’s work fills an important gap in the response efforts in Kansas.

Finally, many of the projects and grants we support throughout the country also have been disrupted, because people have been redirecting their efforts as needed.

Given the current situation, the Center has decided to modify its current and planned activities so that we all can concentrate on slowing COVID-19. We have postponed our upcoming webinar CJS and Public Health 3.0, which was previously scheduled for April 3, 2020. We did this because we understand that the COVID-19 response efforts are having myriad impacts on our partners, including state and local health departments and other organizations involved in public health, and we don’t want to compete with those efforts. Follow this link to learn about other modifications to our work plan.

One thing we have decided not to do during this extraordinary time is to quit communicating. We strongly feel that this is not a time to be silent. Therefore, we will continue to send regular emails to our stakeholders and communicate in other ways. For example, in the next few months, we hope to bring you stories of how cross-jurisdictional sharing can help in your emergency response efforts. With that in mind, we’d love to hear your stories about how your work has been impacted as a result of COVID-19, especially how you are collaborating with other health departments or organizations. Please email your stories to me at phsharing@khi.org.

Like Dr. Crumbine, you’ve probably faced obstacles in your work, such as roadblocks set up by people who don’t understand the need for such extraordinary measures, and you may make mistakes as you try to protect and improve health in your community. But we must remember to keep striving toward our goals in spite of this adversity because, as Dr. Crumbine so wisely said all those years ago, “the health of all of us depends on the health of each of us.”

We thank you for the work you are doing during this extraordinary time. Please stay well!

— Gianfranco Pezzino, Director