An Unprecedented Public Health Thank You Day

November 20, 2020|6:31 p.m.| Michael Fraser, PhD | ASTHO Chief Executive Officer

Michael Fraser, PhDIf there is any word to describe 2020 it is “unprecedented,” with the work of health agencies front and center since COVID-19 emerged in the U.S. But as we approach Public Health Thank You Day and the Thanksgiving season, ASTHO wants to send a special appreciation to our entire state and territorial public health workforce. We have been so impressed by your tireless work to address COVID-19 in your jurisdictions and you have wowed us all with your dedication and commitment to the work of health protection and improvement. Thank you all for all you do to keep your communities healthy!

In the next few months, we are going to need to redouble our efforts to prevent the spread of this virus as more of us spend more time indoors and we see viral transmission exponentially increase. ASTHO is concerned by the rising rates of COVID-19 infection despite the hard work of health agencies to control it. You can check out our recently released call to action here that describes the five urgent steps every state and territorial health agency should consider now to help prevent infection and slow the spread of COVID.

The key to controlling COVID-19 is the vital need to put the "public" back in public health. The unfortunate reality is that the pandemic response has been politicized, and the simple acts of preventing infections by wearing a mask or practicing physical distancing have been complicated by political rhetoric and divisive beliefs.

We have a pressing need to tailor and customize prevention messages about wearing a mask and maintaining distance that resonant with communities who do not believe COVID-19 is a threat to them and their families. Can we commit to continued conversations with communities to address their concerns while demonstrating the urgent need to follow public health guidance well into 2021, and perhaps beyond?

This focus on the public is even more important as we embark upon another "unprecedented" moment in the on-going pandemic saga—the beginning of the COVID-19 vaccination campaign. The effort requires yet another all-hands-on-deck call to distribute the vaccine and to convince a skeptical segment of the public to take it. While I am confident our public health system can deliver on the mission to distribute vaccine, I think we have a lot more to do to reassure a worried public that getting a COVID-19 vaccine, especially while they are technically still under development, is an important and safe action we can all take to end this pandemic.

We have lots to worry about, but so much more to be grateful for. This Public Health Thank You Day is like everything in 2020—"unprecedented." I am looking forward to this year being over, and I am sure you are too. But I am also thankful for 2020 and all the lessons it has taught us. The most important lesson? Our public health workforce is diverse, dedicated, and strong enough to deal with this pandemic threat. Our ASTHO team will do all we can to support you in this unprecedented time, and of course, beyond.


Michael Fraser, PhD, is the CEO of ASTHO