Clear. Emotional. Ventilators. Opioids. Diabetes. Obesity. Cardiovascular disease. Mental health. Tobacco. Healthcare access. Motor vehicle accidents. Intimate partner violence. Immunization hesitancy. Poverty. Each a legitimate public health issue. Each threaded to preventable misery and possibly death. Each with a recognizable face. One story at a time. One casualty at a time. Profoundly human. Profoundly memorable. Universally accepted urgent societal issues.
Opaque. Technical. One Health. Wet markets. Climate change. Eutrophication. Lead. Ticks. Mosquitoes. Pesticides. Norovirus. PFOA and PFOS. Legionella. Each a legitimate public health issue. Each contributes to preventable misery and possibly death. Virtually none with a recognizable face. Scores of stories at a time. A multitude of casualties. Profoundly scientific. Unrelatable for most people on most days. Considered by many as issues of little immediate or lasting consequence.
Over the next few weeks, environmental health professionals, like Atlas of Greek mythology, will be asked to hoist many burdens upon their shoulders. We will be requested to green-light the reopening of schools and day care centers. We will be prodded for guidance on the flushing and cleaning of building plumbing systems. We will be involved in assessments of restaurants and grocery stores. We will weigh into decisions about the safety of swimming pools and beaches. We will mediate society’s return to normalcy. The stress promises to be intense and relentless. The issues will be emotional and compelling.
The time in history that puts us—environmental health professionals—at the intersection of COVID-19 is just ahead. I can visualize the bend in the road with the warning sign blinking. This is the moment for which we were trained. Let’s bring a contemporary interpretation to the art of practice. Let our face be one of kindness and empathy. Let our science drive our community’s recovery and resiliency. Let this be the moment where we safely shepherd the frightened public into the future. The road ahead promises to be arduous, and the potholes, abundant. I, and every employee of our association, is committed to bring the full measure of our capabilities and resources to your support. Let’s create a profoundly memorable moment, one that undeniably demonstrates the value of our profession to the health and prosperity of the communities we serve.
David T. Dyjack, DrPH, CIH
Executive Director, NEHA