Special to Iredell Free News

The Iredell County Health Department is observing National Public Health Week a little differently this year.

Typically, there is a celebration to honor the efforts the department is making to protect the health of our community. However, this year the public health team is working around the clock to protect Iredell County’s 180,000-plus residents from the overwhelming impact of a novel strain of coronavirus, COVID-19.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the role of public health professionals in helping protect the community is more important than ever. Through contact tracing and investigating, emergency planning, public education and more, our public health professionals are part of the front line in protecting Iredell County from health threats like COVID-19.

The core mission of the Iredell County Health Department is to promote and protect community, personal, and environmental health. The professional staff typically conducts its work in the background, working behind the scenes to protect the community’s health.

It’s during uncertain times like these, however, that the efforts of public health professionals shine proudly.

Emergency preparedness and communicable disease response are not new to the health department. Rather, they align with all three core functions of public health (assessment, policy development and assurance) that are addressed on a regular basis by public health professionals. Whether it be H1N1, Ebola, Zika, or mumps, public health workers have confronted and mitigated a broad spectrum of communicable diseases.

While COVID-19 poses threats that much of our public health team has never experienced, the staff is knowledgeable, well-trained, and prepared to stand on the front lines during this pandemic to protect the health and well-being of our community.

The role public health services in the community is typically vast, but during this current pandemic the entire team is working around the clock on tasks related to the current COVID-19 outbreak. Many team members are cross-training in order to take on additional duties.

Some of the health department’s primary duties during this uncharted time include:
♦ Activating and mobilizing emergency preparedness plans. The Public Health Command Center was activated on April 3 and has since been operating at full-capacity on a daily basis addressing the various public health needs of our community.
 Serving as communicable disease experts. The communicable disease staff have been conducting investigations, contact tracing, monitoring suspected cases, and enforcing isolation and quarantine protocols.
 Supporting community partners and working hand-in-hand with our local elected officials, Emergency Management, law enforcement, hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, restaurants, childcare facilities, and local businesses and industries to ensure they have the information and resources needed to function appropriately during this pandemic.
 Assisting and connecting vulnerable or under resourced individuals with the services they need, such as housing, food, and mental health services.
 Keeping community members informed by answering questions, providing up-to-date information about the outbreak and the local community impact, and providing recommendations for how best to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

The Iredell County Health Department has adapted swiftly to this emerging threat to public health. The staff has refocused its programmatic priorities to support COVID-19 mitigation and response efforts by closely monitoring community spread, maintaining constant communication with our community, and identifying and addressing common barriers and needs of the community.