From reducing infant mortality to developing and distributing vaccines, tracking food-borne illness, and preparing for natural disasters, public health workers were never short on responsibilities. However, their profile has certainly been elevated the last eight months.
“Right now, you turn on the TV, you can see exactly what public health is about,” said Monique Campbell, the public health nurse supervisor for the city of Hartford.
Tasked with COVID-19 testing and contract tracing, public health workers have played a vital role during this pandemic. However, their regular work hasn’t stopped.
“We are continuing to do lead abatement services in apartments,” said Liany Arroyo, director of Health and Human Services for Hartford.
Their work is often not on the front lines but behind the scenes.
“No one here ever says that’s not my job. It’s been what can I do to help,” said Arroyo.
Helping salons and restaurants reopen has put local health inspectors right in the middle of fray.
“All the work public health professionals do every day to be able to make sure the places that we eat, work, and play for all our citizens has just been compounded by COVID-19,” explained Charles Brown, director of the Central Connecticut Health District.
Brown said their health department actually started tracking the mysterious illness that became known as COVID-19 in China last December. Since March, they've been going non-stop.
A “disease detective,” Hartford’s epidemiologist Tung Nguyen interprets the data that city leaders use to make decisions. NBC Connecticut asked him if he’s had a day off since the pandemic started.
“I’m going to be very honest with you. Ah, no,” he said. “Public health, we depend on numbers.”
Campbell said she worked through her maternity leave by continuing to answer phone calls during her short absence.
“It’s a day off, but not really a day off,” she pointed out. “I love my job, I really really do.”
At a time when most of us are avoiding social interaction, public health workers are in the trenches.
“I’ve had to you know help contact trace somebody and help people support people in quarantine after they’ve lost a loved one and then not be able to grieve the way they normally do,” explained Brown.
Monday was national Public Health Worker Thank You Day. Arroyo and Brown said there were many people who deserve recognition.
“Those people that are in the restaurants every day, those people that are doing salon inspections, our health educators that are educating people on the way they can keep their families healthy. Those are the people who deserve our thanks,” said Brown. “They work very hard every single day without recognition so that every community can be as healthy as they can be.”
“They came into this because they had a heart for wanting to help people,” added Arroyo.