On 11 March 2021, the world reached a dubious milestone – one year since the World Health Organization (WHO) first declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Soon after that declaration, a large portion of the world shut down. In the 12 months that followed, community stakeholders have become relatively well-versed in the scientific theories surrounding social distancing, viral load, herd immunity, and transmission of respiratory droplets. However, no topic has likely been more discussed (or more heatedly debated) than the need for and use of face masks.
The mission of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) is to save lives and protect Americans from 21st century health security threats by leading the nation’s medical and public health preparedness for, response to, and recovery from disasters and public health emergencies. To accomplish this mission, ASPR collaborates with hospitals, healthcare coalitions, community stakeholders and groups, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, the private sector, and other partners across the U.S. to improve readiness and response capabilities.
The word “reconnaissance” conjures the image of sizing up the enemy and making a plan. Behind medieval history and WWII films about military battles across seas and foreign lands, military forces and commands strategized the battle with efforts revolving around reconnaissance. For many of those who diligently formulate and coordinate emergency response, planning, preparedness, mitigation, and recovery, and those who came out of the Civil Defense Era to build and mold modern emergency management, this pandemic response has elicited feelings of anger and a struggle between opinions and facts.
Ten years ago, a team of representatives from King and Pierce counties, cities of Seattle and Bellevue, Joint Base Lewis McChord, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory set forth on developing the Regional Recovery Framework for a Biological Attack in the Seattle Urban Area. A collaboration of the Seattle Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) partners and military and federal agencies, the framework was specific to a hypothetical catastrophic, wide‐area biological attack using weaponized anthrax in the Seattle urban area but was designed to be flexible and scalable to serve as the recovery framework for other chemical or biological incidents. The team revisited the framework again in 2012 to create the Denver UASI All-Hazards Regional Recovery Framework. Such frameworks have been revisited again for use during the COVID pandemic.
In the age of COVID-19, community leaders and the public they serve are bombarded with news related to testing. However, many do not understand the value the results can provide, to whom they should be given, and the actions that are allowed and should be taken. These questions need to be asked and small steps need to be taken to better comprehend what can and should be done to protect communities from a not fully understood biological threat.
The concept of hospital resilience has changed in light of COVID-19. Despite planning and training for unexpected worst cast scenarios, one key assumption was not consistent with this pandemic response – that not everyone would be affected. This webcast discusses the gaps, challenges, and opportunities related to this ongoing response as observed by four experts in this field: Connor Scott, Craig DeAtley, Dr. James Terbush, and Dr. Craig Vanderwagen.
Lately, there have been a number of discussions about protecting healthcare workers, bolstering the ranks with volunteerism, and utilizing alternative care sites and providers. There have been call-ups of retired clinicians of all stripes, field promotions of health sciences students, and alternative venues for care like telemedicine. However, one group that does not seem to be as considered or fully addressed is that of home health workers. Although they are often tangentially referenced in healthcare environment conversations, this unique, variable, and incompletely accounted landscape is potentially an area of increased risk for providers, patients, public spread, and mortality.
To help with the increasing surge of COVID-19 patients, there have been a number of calls to re-enlist retired physicians and nurses in the healthcare setting. These calls from those within the government and the clinical setting are understandable on the surface. However, some elements are not being fully considered and could actually have harmful effects if not implemented effectively.
SARS, H1N1, Ebola, Zika, and now the COVID-19 pandemic blindsided U.S. public health officials and the world at large. Although this is a newsworthy headline, it is not entirely accurate. Hyperbole may sell newspapers, but has ignored the great progress that has been made in national public health emergency preparedness. This narrative downplays the lessons learned, many which resulted in improvements in preparedness. Preparedness for well understood threats and expert knowledge of how to respond to those threats – from a scientific, medical, and logistics perspective – is already established. Addressing the many lurking yet unknown threats is more challenging.
This year marks 20 years since Congress established the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), originally named the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, in preparation for the year 2000. The intent was to arm the country against possible terrorist threats that could disrupt the U.S. medical supply chain. With a $51 million appropriation and a handful of public health staff based at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the stockpile began in 1999 with a sole focus to protect the American people from biological and chemical attacks.