During National Public Health Week, we had the opportunity to highlight the work we do every day. Public health provides a foundation for health in communities across the country. Some examples of public health initiatives in the U.S. include the elimination of rabies in domestic animals, ensuring food and water are safe, immunization programs, and work to provide access to healthy food for everyone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on the work public health professionals do and how we protect the public. A well-functioning public health system works to understand and respond to community health issues. This might include working on an increase in local diabetes cases or opioid overdoses, or as we’ve all seen over the last year, the transmission of an infectious disease.

Olmsted County Public Health staff, as well as public health professionals throughout the world, have spent countless hours working to limit the damage due to the pandemic. Locally, we have asked nearly all our public health staff to shift from the jobs they were hired to do to new work duties related to pandemic response.

However, we could never be successful at mitigating a pandemic by ourselves. It has taken partners throughout the community working together to protect as many lives as possible. I’d like to recognize everyone who has helped Olmsted County make it through a very tough year.

As it relates to COVID-19, Olmsted County Public Health staff have:

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  • Interrupted disease transmission by interviewing individuals who have tested positive, identifying contacts and containing outbreaks.

  • Worked with Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center, and others to ensure everyone in our community has access to convenient, free testing.

  • Collaborated with community partners on education and outreach to individuals from different cultures who speak different languages to ensure they have the information they need about the pandemic and the vaccine.

  • Worked with local businesses to provide guidance on how to operate safely.

  • Linked residents to essential support services.

  • Administered mass COVID-19 vaccinations in our community.

While most staff have been working on pandemic response, we have continued to provide other critical community services, including water quality testing, food support to young families through WIC, and family home visiting programs.

We also recognize the pandemic has strained the community’s top determinants of health, including mental health, substance use, and financial stability. Olmsted Public Health is working on strategies to help our residents, businesses, and community get back on their feet as we move past COVID-19.

Our residents have also played a critical role throughout the pandemic. It’s been a really challenging year, and some of you have experienced profound loss – whether it be a loved one or a business built from scratch. But I commend you all for your willingness to wear masks, stay distanced, support our local businesses, and adjust to a very different routine. These efforts have helped save lives in Olmsted County, and we couldn’t do this without everyone working together.

I have been honored to work among those in the trenches fighting this virus, and I feel for those who have lost something that cannot be replaced. I’d say we’ve all experienced a public health year. While it’s involved pain, stress and loss, we’ve also demonstrated community resilience. It’s that resilience that will help us build this community into something stronger.

Thanks to the Olmsted County community, since we all play an important role in maintaining the public’s health.

Graham Briggs is the Olmsted County director of public health.