Louisville Medicine Volume 69, Issue 5 - Page 30

( continued from page 27 ) outlets 2 , reported in depth on the dangerous rollbacks of public health safeguards by state officials determined to please their angry constituents . All 50 states have seen attempts , and so far over half have succeeded . They wrote , “ In Arkansas , legislators banned mask mandates 4 except in private businesses or state-run healthcare settings , calling them a burden on the public peace , health , and safety of the citizens of this state .” In Idaho , county commissioners , who typically have no public health expertise , can veto countywide public health orders . 5 In Ohio , the legislature can now overturn public health officials ’ specific orders .
The states involved are primarily the same states that since August have run out of ICU beds , ICU nurses , ward beds and even morgue space . Frustrated public health officials , who have moved heaven and earth to get people vaccinated and protect them from preventable death , now are finding their offices increasingly powerless . They are being blamed as the enemies , not the protectors , of their citizenry . “ It ’ s kind of like having your hands tied in the middle of a boxing match ,” said Kelley Vollmar , executive director of the Jefferson County , Missouri Health Department .
In Utah and Iowa , masks are forbidden in schools . In Montana , a state where barely half the people have taken any COVID-19 vaccine , no employer of any kind - no doctor or hospital or nursing home - can require employees to get any vaccine , including flu shots . Patients admitted to a hospital in Montana must now face the risk of COVID-19 as well as influenza , from now until spring , because their legislators valued not being ordered around more than staying alive . I will be looking up Montana ’ s mortality rates all winter , myself . Not only that , but the public health department ’ s authority to define who should be isolated / quarantined was taken away and put in the hands of elected city and county commissioners . The health department may no longer issue masking regulations for businesses or public buildings . Aaron Bolton , a Montana Public Radio reporter 3 quoted Drenda Niemann , Lewis and Clark County Health Officer and chair of the Association of Montana Public Health Officials about this stripping away of safety precautions . “ There ’ s a really good reason why boards of health are not elected / health officers either . Public health is charged with and has the responsibility and the expertise to protect the public . The decisions that need to be made around these issues cannot be politicized .” She also noted that the law is so unclear that right now her county is unable to amend regulations on a contaminated Superfund site because the chain of command among numerous elected officials is not specified . If local jurisdictions try to override state rules , they could lose 20 % of funding for some grants . public health officers have no weapons other than persuasion . Not only that , they have gotten hate mail by the bundle .
Karen Sullivan of the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department said , “ In the midst of Delta and other variants that are out there , we ’ re quite frankly a nervous wreck about it . Relying on morality and goodwill is not a good public health practice .”
The Associated Press has estimated that more than 300 public health officials have quit during this pandemic . We did not have enough of them to go around to begin with .
Kentucky office holders swear to uphold the US Constitution and our Commonwealth one . They also swear they have not fought a duel . Compared to not fighting a pandemic , that ’ s pretty puny - a duel at most kills four , if the seconds get into it and finish each other off . We ’ ve already lost over 8,000 Kentuckians to COVID-19 .
This legislative group has laid the groundwork to hamper public health efforts , in a state that has been a leader in polio vaccination ; in Jefferson County alone , our health department has saved us well over $ 2 million by designing and running an all-out , all volunteer LouVax campaign that ’ s still sending out vaccination missions nearly daily .
Schoolchildren have families and grandparents at risk , and until at least Halloween , there is no vaccine yet for those under 12 . I am greatly saddened that all Kentuckians will reap what this special session has sown : a surging of infections in schools , spreading out into the community . May the school boards of this state save us all .
1 https :// spectrumnews1 . com / ky / louisville / news / 2021 / 09 / 14 / teachers-hospitalized ? cid = share _ clip
https :// www . latimes . com / science / story / 2021-09-15 / republicans-roll-back-public-health-powers-amid-pandemic
Montana Public Radio , Aaron Bolton and Freddy Bonares , May 24 2021 transcript .
4 https :// legiscan . com / AR / text / SB590 / id / 2387706
5 https :// legiscan . com / ID / text / S1060 / 2021
Dr . Barry is an internist and Associate Professor of Medicine ( Gratis Faculty ) at the University of Louisville School of Medicine , currently enjoying a very long sabbatical until return to part-time work in the fall .
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