George Mason University
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George Mason University

The (Often) Hidden Work of Public Health: A Reminder from COVID-19

March 18, 2020

A Public Health Message from the Dean

The power of public health is that it is largely invisible when it's working well--allowing us to go about our daily activities without concern for the safety of our food and water, fresh air to breathe, and the ability to greet one other with hugs or handshakes.  Our ability to overlook these gifts reflects the public health’s infrastructure that underlies each of us.  Such invisibility has its cost, as public health can be taken for granted or minimized, especially in the times of budget cuts or competing priorities.  Unlike high tech devices or designer drugs that have direct marketing campaigns aimed at targeted populations, public health measures are often not glitzy and can be overlooked, except when the public’s health is threatened.

Life as most of us knew it has changed, possibly forever.  The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting all aspects of life and higher education, and most of us have little to no experience managing or living through pandemics, until now.  Thankfully, however, there are people with leadership and public health experience who have helped affected populations come through past outbreaks and pandemics.  To this end, it is comforting to know that we do have professionals with necessary knowledge and expertise to help combat the current pandemic.  The changes in our life came upon us suddenly following an announcement on January 30, 2020 from the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization (WHO) who declared the  COVID-19 outbreak a “… public health emergency of international concern.”  Shortly thereafter on March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic

During this time of uncertainty, best public health practices offer solutions for minimizing exposures and preventing infections.  Each of us has the ability to minimize exposure through social distancing, forgoing handshakes, and coughing and sneezing into our elbows.  These low-tech but efficacious behaviors protect both you and others by minimizing exposure and slowing the spread of infection in our communities. If we follow these measures faithfully and stop the spread of COVID-19, many will be tempted to say these steps were unnecessary or an over-reaction.  Such irony underscores the invisibility of public health.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in conjunction with public health partners is working closely with state, local, tribal, and territorial partners to respond to this pandemic on all fronts.  Guidance is available to help protect yourself and family members.

The College of Health and Human services is transitioning to become a college of public health pending SCHEV’s approval of our PhD in Public Health degree program.  Our revised application submitted mid-January 2020 is the last Commonwealth step in advancing our transition to become a college of public health.  Now, as in the future, our College is working with our many partners to make health visible for all the communities we serve. 

There is so much more to health than the absence of disease.  Health helps foster individual well-being and is an economic driver at all levels.  We have the power to stop the pandemic, and each of us can help by incorporating simple public health practices in our everyday lives.  The virus is small in comparison to the size of our community and its many abilities. 

For the latest Mason operational updates about COVID-19/Coronavirus, visit gmu.edu/coronavirus.

Related people: Germaine Louis, PhD, MS
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