There is a saying in health care — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. One of the most important lessons from the fight against COVID-19 is that the same goes for public health. This pandemic has cost our country, our communities, and our families so much. Our economy has lost $16 trillion, and millions of jobs — and most importantly, we have lost 610,000 people.
Things could have gone differently if we had made, and maintained, the kind of investments in public health we have long needed. Instead, when this pandemic struck, many public health departments were understaffed. Our public health data systems were outdated, with some departments getting case reports via fax — thousands of printed pages at a time. Lab capacity was stretched to the limit, meaning we lost valuable time for testing, contact tracing, and identifying new variants and outbreaks. And existing health inequities were ignored, undermining efforts to protect our most vulnerable communities.
In short, our public health system was underfunded, and our nation was unprepared. We must never let that happen again. That’s why I’ve been fighting for funding for public health and preparedness efforts throughout our COVID-19 response. Such investments are especially important at this critical moment in the pandemic — with cases surging and the vaccination rate stalling.
New data shows the American people agree. Most Americans are concerned about a future pandemic, and want us to take action to be better prepared. According to a new poll from Data for Progress, seven in ten people — including a clear majority of Republicans — consistently support making a bold $30 billion investment in issues related to our nation’s public health infrastructure and preparedness like early detection, testing, vaccines, stockpiles, supply chains, and our public health workforce.
And once we’ve made the strongest possible investment in public health we possibly can right now, we need to keep pushing. We have to end the cycle of crisis and complacency in public health funding once and for all. That’s why I’m working to pass the Public Health Infrastructure Saves Lives Act — which would provide dedicated, annual funding to build and maintain our public health infrastructure at every level.
Public health isn’t a one-and-done issue. As Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino, a public health officer in Kansas, put it last year, “We don’t say to the fire department, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. There were no fires last year, so we’re going to take 30% of your budget away.’”
That shouldn’t happen to public health either. We have to learn from this history, because we cannot afford to repeat it.