To the Editor:
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Mayor has provided strong leadership for the town to fully respond to the ongoing demands resulting from it. And fortunately for us, Megan Avallone, RN, MS, our Health Officer, has led the Westfield Regional Health Department (WRHD). She and the WRHD staff have provided extraordinary Covid-19-related services for us and our seven participating neighboring municipalities, in addition to the routine public health services we continue to need.
The WRHD has been and will continue to actively monitor the evolving situation involving Covid-19 in New Jersey. Please see: https://www.westfieldnj.gov/coronavirus. In addition, it has and will continue to review and provide guidance for our town’s leaders and residents. The WRHD services and actions have included the following:
- Conducting hundreds of investigations of confirmed positive cases and following-up on them, including contact tracing.
- Completing contact tracings.
- Providing hundreds of individual, business and group consultations.
- Communicating with local schools and health care providers to provide updated guidance.
- Providing assistance to the local long term care facilities in light of the documented increased risk of Covid-19 for people who live and work in them.
- Participating in New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information and guidance conference calls and webinars.
- Maintaining daily contact with the State Epidemiologist on the changing situation.
- Conducting collaborative meetings with the other public health agencies from the surrounding area.
- Reviewing applicable emergency plans and procedures, including the Department’s Pandemic Plan.
So far in this pandemic, at least 257 of our fellow residents have had confirmed Covid-19. I am certain that many more were infected, but were not tested and confirmed. Of these, 35 of our neighbors have died, of whom about half were residents of a long-term care facility. Although we have passed through the beginning of the first phase, we will likely see more people infected, get sick and die and many others indirectly affected. This means that each resident will continue to need to tolerate some difficulties and inconveniences in order to protect our families, neighbors and ourselves as the “new normal” takes hold. However, I remain optimistic, because I have seen how adaptable, resourceful and resilient we are. One hundred years ago, no one could have predicted that the then deadly influenza pandemic, which killed about 675,000 Americans, would be followed by relative prosperity, but that’s what happened.
At this time, the members of the Westfield Board of Health and I would like to thank Ms. Avallone and the entire staff of the WRHD for their many hours of selfless dedication to provide public health services to help and support us. We are sure that they will continue to do a terrific job and spend much more time providing essential public health services for all of us as this pandemic unfolds.
In doing so, we should all consider the tremendous value of having a strong public health infrastructure, like we have, with dedicated, high quality and resourced professional and support staff. Unfortunately in the nation and in New Jersey, public health has too often been neglected, as evidenced by the recent diminution of the CDC, the gutting of the NJDOH during the last decade, and the anti-science agendas supported by the climate change deniers and anti-vaccinationists. Hopefully, our leaders and fellow citizens will remember these days and be supportive of public health departments, personnel, programs and policies after the pandemic passes.
Lawrence D. Budnick, MD, MPH
President, Westfield Board of Health