COVID-19 and the New World of Public Health

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ARTICLE

COVID-19 and the New World of Public Health

Author(s)
Ed Greissing
Ed Greissing
Executive Director, Milken Institute Center for Public Health

Whether we wanted to or not, most of us have received a crash course in public health with the coronavirus pandemic. Public health has always encompassed health education, prevention, and addressing infectious diseases, with an overarching goal of improving health outcomes. But it is so much more.

Today, we live in uncertain times as coronavirus occupies every thought and action. Now is the time to recognize the important role public health plays, not only in fighting this pandemic but also in calling attention to the enormous range of topics public health touches to improve health outcomes. Public health is everything!

Now public health interventions address conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping daily life. When you are told to eat a nutritious diet to stay well but you cannot access those healthy foods, ensuring this access is public health. Addressing public health requires each of us to think about the physical and social environment in which we live, the food we eat, chronic disease, mental health, and the environment of our local community and the world.

We know that people with chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, have increased risk for severe illness. The right food, exercise, and appropriate sleep may be part of the solution, but the research community has not seriously addressed these questions. That must change.

While the coronavirus attacks the body, we need to be aware of the immediate and long-term impact the disease will have on mental health and of individuals and communities. Fear, isolation, loneliness, depression, and anxiety can weigh on the human spirit and hope for a healthy future.

During these difficult times we must acknowledge the crucial role nutrition plays in keeping us healthy. A balanced diet high in zinc, vitamin C, and vitamin D3 may help fight infection and disease. Additionally, emerging evidence suggests diet full of fruits, vegetables, and fiber rich foods supports gut health and reduces inflammation. A flourishing microbiome plays a fundamental role on our immune systems. At this point, public and private partnerships must work to ensure that everyone has access to such immunity boosting foods.

Even as we deal with the immediate pandemic crisis, we must look to the future and think about the opportunities ahead. We must approach recovery proactively by addressing the adequate funding of research at US Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and other public and private research institutions.

We are making progress in mitigating this disease. The public-private partnerships forming remind us of the Greatest Generation and industry working together to give us the tools we needed and the hope of a brighter future. Each of us likely will know somebody who was infected or was ill. It will come to every community, and the time to act is now. Each day we isolate or quarantine will save lives tomorrow.

There are no magic bullets, but the promise of science and innovation is excellent. We must continue our efforts to improve all aspects of public health to improve our odds of a healthy future, together.

Published May 4, 2020