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Policy Statement, Press Release
Lessons Being Learned: COVID, Contact Tracing and Growing the Public Health Workforce
Statement by the National Coalition of STD Directors
February 3, 2022
For Immediate Release: February 3, 2022 Contact: Kathleen Jeanty, 617-610-5424, firstname.lastname@example.org
Washington, D.C. – The lessons of COVID-19 have been many, and the public health system continues to adapt to meet the challenges of a changing pandemic. Responding to the unique characteristics of COVID-19 at this point in the pandemic, health departments are transitioning to outbreak investigation and targeted case investigations and away from universal contact tracing. This is the right strategy today for COVID-19. However, universal contract tracing and case investigation remain the gold standard as the first-line response of the public health system to any epidemic or infectious disease outbreak. A primary lesson of COVID-19 has been that our complex, fragmented health care system is not well-equipped to intervene in the spread of disease, and an underfunded public health system leaves the nation vulnerable to future infectious disease outbreaks.
Long-term investment in the public health workforce and infrastructure is key to controlling and ending existing epidemics such as STIs and HIV and to preparing the U.S. to meet the challenges of future pandemics. Central to meeting these challenges today and tomorrow are Disease Intervention Specialists (DIS)—core members of the public health workforce. DIS are boots on the ground contact tracers, case investigators, and health care navigators, and their work has been the backbone of the public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As contact tracers and case investigators, DIS work within an established biomedical model that has been shown to reduce the spread of disease when properly resourced. Once a DIS is alerted to a case, there is a narrow window in which to connect that individual and all their contacts to care and other mitigation strategies. The longer DIS work is delayed due to shortages in public health staffing, the more time an infection can spread within a community. As community health navigators, DIS help identify community needs and direct health care resources where they are most needed, especially among vulnerable Americans who experience health disparities. DIS are essential health equity workers.
Maintaining and expanding a robust, well-trained, and well-funded DIS workforce is essential to meeting the challenges of future epidemics and to protecting the health and well-being of Americans. This is an urgent national priority, and we are grateful that Congress has provided much-needed new funding to expand this public health workforce. The National Coalition of STD Directors, together with our partners in the public health community, will do everything in our power to bring a sense of urgency to this task and help states and local jurisdictions quickly hire, train, and deploy new disease intervention specialists.
About the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD)
NCSD is a national organization representing health department STD directors, their support staff, and community-based organizations across 50 states, seven large cities, and eight US territories. NCSD advances effective STD prevention programs and services in every community across the country. For more information, go to ncsddc.org