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A Turning Point for Public Health?

Posted on January 27, 2021
Dornsife students taking the traditional health as a human rights pledge and commiting to addressing the social determinants of health in fall 2019
Dornsife students take the traditional health as a human right pledge and commit to addressing the social determinants of health in fall 2019 during Welcome Week before the coronavirus pandemic.

By Ana V. Diez Roux, MD, PhD, MPH

Create a diverse COVID-19 task force and a focus on health equity in the COVID-19 response.

Mandate the use of masks on federal property and on public transportation.

Develop a coordinated federal strategy to support and accelerate access to personal protective equipment, tests and vaccines.

Provide federal support and guidance for the safe reopening of schools and issue federal guidance to protect workers from COVID-19.

Expand access to care and treatments for COVID-19.

Direct all federal agencies to support the gathering, sharing, and publication of COVID-19 related data and support the development of public health data infrastructure generally.

Stop the U.S. exit from the World Health Organization.

Re-enter the Paris climate accords.

Reverse the rollbacks to vehicle emission standards and revisit other recent regulations that may threaten the environment or public health, including policies on restricting the science that can be considered by the EPA in setting environmental standards.

Instruct government agencies to immediately commence work to confront the climate crisis, including the re-establishment of a working group on the social costs (including health costs) of greenhouse gases.

Overturn a prior executive order that pushed aggressive efforts to find and deport unauthorized immigrants and revoke discriminatory immigration bans.

Revoke a plan to exclude non-citizens from the census count.

Require all federal agencies to make rooting out systemic racism and achieving equity central to their work and ensure that the federal government does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Extend a federal moratorium on evictions.

Above is a partial list of actions taken by the new United States administration, mostly in the past week.

Actions to finally address the global pandemic in an organized and comprehensive way based on science are, of course, at the top of the list. But all these actions, directly and indirectly, in the short-term or in the long-term, can impact public health.

Remarkably, a concern for health and health equity is woven into many of the executive orders issued by the President, even those that are not directly COVID-19 related.

There is much work to do. What counts are the actions, not the orders or the words. But I will take the words as a start and build from there. In this, our role as public health academics, practitioners, and advocates will be key.

May the year 2021 indeed be the beginning of an auspicious year for public health. May we address not only the pandemic, but all the other ongoing public health challenges that the pandemic has served to highlight.