After two years of COVID-19, and now a drop in cases, health departments are reflecting on their roles throughout the pandemic.
Dr. Joshua Meyerson is the Medical Director for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, Benzie-Leelanau District Health Department, and District Health Department #4.
“We have learned a lot in the last two years, but it’s been certainly the greatest challenge in public health in our generation,” said Dr. Meyerson.
He said the region now is in a much better place than it was two years ago.
“We have effective and safe vaccines that help prevent this disease, hospitalization, and prevent deaths,” said Dr. Meyerson. “We have more effective treatments available for people when they do become ill with COVID, and we have much greater degree of community immunity.”
Dr. Meyerson said local health departments across the nation wore many hats during the pandemic.
“Part of our job and function as your local health department, is we are the boots on the ground that are here to assure the overall community to deal with things like the prevention of all sorts of illnesses including communicable diseases,” he said. “Case reporting, case investigation, contact tracing, all of those are our role.”
Dr. Meyerson said from day one, communication and planning were key to run health departments.
“I think we were very effective at instituting better ways of communicating with our community across all levels with our healthcare providers, elected officials, community members,” he said. “Two years ago, we went into an incident command structure, where we met, at first, every day 7 days a week. We worked together as a team to assign tasks, to review the situation, and to respond to what the needs are, not just immediate needs, but planning for future needs.”
One of the biggest roles health departments planned and prepped for was testing for COVID-19.
“It was apparent in the spring  that testing was a major concern,” said Dr. Meyerson. “Although it’s not something we normally do, it was apparent that testing was a major issue, and of upmost importance initially, and it still is. I was really, really proud that our staff was able to really come together and say, well what can we do, how can we make thing happen?”
As the world moves forward, the future of COVID is still unknown.
“I don’t see eradication of this virus, so it will continue to circulate,” said Dr. Meyerson. “It’s already showing patterns of seasonality where it surges up and surges down.”
However, unlike two years ago, there are vaccines and medicine that helps prevent and treat COVID-19.
“There are monoclonal antibody infusions and injections now that can really greatly reduce the need for individuals to have to be hospitalized, it can reduce their risk of death greatly,” said Dr. Meyerson. “There are now oral medications, pills that similarly can reduce your risk, and I think we’ll see the availability of those increase overtime.”
But, there’s still a lot of unknowns left with COVID-19.
“There’s been talk about another booster dose, what the timing of that would be, when the best time to do that, would that be the same vaccine or the same vaccine but with the newer, updated strains in it, kind of like when we update the flu vaccine,” said Dr. Meyerson. “I think those are things we’ll need to continue to look at.”