It is both with broken heart from too many COVID-19 casualties in our little town and with clear mind of my responsibility as Chair of our local Board of Health that I pen this.

In every aspect of the front lines of this pandemic, NO ONE can hold a candle to the enormous load that Maplewood Public Health Officer Candice Davenport and her tiny team are carrying right now. They are checking in with labs, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities; with families who are left stranded with immeasurable loss, pain, and anxiety; with local and county emergency management officials and state health department briefings tracking and triaging data, guiding investigators and social contact tracers. They are delivering care packages; logging individual temperatures, symptoms and test results; and creating educational announcements.

They are the glue that is keeping every part of our government running right now across municipal departments and services: giving guidance to the actions of local law enforcement and first responders, working within government reporting and public meetings, and connecting affected residents to essential social and supportive services. They report to the county and to us; they inform the Mayor’s daily communications. They manage employees' health.  

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Ms. Davenport and Public Health Nurse Anna Markarova crisscross our town multiple times a day comforting families who have lost someone or who are feeling unsure and anxious about their own recovery; they laugh and rejoice in their recovery and guide them through quarantine and isolation. They connect families with needs to social services, volunteers, and school district guidance counselors. They are the subject-matter experts tracking data, tracking down patients, keeping logs, liaising with state health department experts, confirming results, guiding law enforcement and first responders. Those public servants depend on Ms. Davenport and her team to confirm recoveries and downgrade their alerts on certain patients. 

They are in constant contact with our most vulnerable community members ensuring essential needs are being met and that best practices in contagion mitigation are being practiced. They are staying on top of our assisted living and other senior homes, delivering masks and other necessary equipment and tracking cases. They make follow-up calls to patients and monitor their neighbors’ health. They give safety guidance to nurses, home health aides, and food delivery workers.

At a time of great uncertainty, Ms. Davenport and her team are a constant source of certainty. Despite having to internalize trauma daily, they provide comfort and instill confidence with exceptional professionalism and remarkable empathy — every connection with every family is deeply felt. Through long hours every day and every weekend, they are our conduit to safety, health, and peace of mind during this crisis.

This is why local public health departments are vital. This is why I'm grateful for Ms. Davenport and our public health team.  And all of Maplewood should be grateful too, for we have our very own front line response team, not a shared service or a county service like some other towns. This is service to the community that needs to be acknowledged, saluted, and supported all across the state. If we've learned anything from this crisis, it's that as a nation we undervalue, under-appreciate, and under-invest in public health — we care more about sports than we do about public health. Let this be our clarion call to national action for public health infrastructure and systems that are prepared for pandemics, and for government that invests in building and supporting local public health departments.

Much like many of you probably, I too under appreciated the scope and depth of our local public health team's efforts during the pandemic. Please take a moment when you can to salute them, thank them, and keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Also, much like many of you out there, I too wish to return to our popular summer events and mass gatherings, to some normalcy, joy and free spirit. I joined my colleagues the other night during our public meeting in expressing our hope for summer fun. Certainly, the State Health Department and Governor will provide us with some guidance on when that may be and how we can do it safely. But, ultimately even after we've flattened the current curve of infections and deaths, until mass testing becomes available and a vaccine is produced, I'm not so sure we can resume life as we knew it, and I caution against expectations that we might be able to in the near future. As we now know, social distancing just isn't practical (or enforceable) in some large gatherings or settings even with proper protocols in place. I remain hopeful that we can, yet I fear that in some respects we're still not getting it.

Public health should drive — not merely inform — forthcoming decisions about opening back up or resuming mass gatherings and public events this summer. I trust our local and state public health officials, I have confidence in their expertise, I will heed their advice — we all should.

With gratitude and in solidarity,

Dean Dafis (he, him, his)

Maplewood Township Deputy Mayor and Board of Health Chair


This is a TAPinto SOMA Guest Column and the opinions expressed are those of the author.

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