May 11 is the end of the federal Public Health Emergency declared to help combat COVID-19. This provides a great opportunity to reflect on the enormity and impacts of the pandemic as well as celebrate the rapid roll-out of public health protections, vaccines, therapeutics, testing and so much more. It is also important to pause and honor the memory of over 1.2 million Americans and almost 5,500 Idahoans who have lost their lives related to COVID-19.
Idaho public health responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. Due to the nature of the response and the need to be nimble, we rapidly scaled up operations. We expanded testing operations, pursued virus sequencing, expanded disease investigation infrastructure, and swiftly and equitably distributed vaccines and therapeutics. We did this while maintaining baseline public health services and contending with waves of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, evolving scientific findings, and pandemic fatigue.
Emergency authorities provided through the state and national emergency declarations, as well as the federal public health emergency, allowed for flexibilities and support for all sectors to address the pandemic.
During the pandemic, we invested in and leveraged previously developed tools, technologies, and strategies, and also developed new ones such as interactive dashboards, communications pathways, and geospatial mapping to assist individuals, communities, health systems, and policy makers to make data-informed decisions to promote health. Safe and effective vaccines were developed, testing platforms became broadly obtainable, and effective therapeutic treatments for COVID-19 were widely available.
Broad adoption of telehealth technologies for a wide array of healthcare services was instrumental to continue to provide care to patients and limit the spread of the virus. This also led to increased access to healthcare services, especially for those in remote or rural areas of Idaho, as well as for those who have difficulty traveling to appointments due to mobility issues or transportation barriers.
Telehealth proved to be an effective way to manage chronic conditions and mental health issues and has been embraced by patients and healthcare providers alike. While the pandemic brought many challenges, the growth of telehealth services is one positive outcome that will continue to benefit Idahoans in the years to come.
Now, as we look to the future through a lens of optimism, we must take the lessons we’ve learned and the challenges we’ve faced into the next chapter in our story. We've seen firsthand the devastating toll that a global pandemic can bring, but we've also seen the incredible resilience and strength of the human spirit, as evidenced by all of you. We've pulled through one of the most difficult times in recent history and have emerged from this crisis even stronger than before. We have proven that as Idahoans we can come together to overcome even the most challenging of situations.
As we move beyond the federal Public Health Emergency, it’s important to remember that our fight against COVID-19 is not yet over. The virus will continue to circulate in our communities, and we need to continue to provide resources and support to help all Idahoans make informed decisions about their health. Together, we will continue to promote the health and well-being of all Idahoans.
For additional details about the impacts of the ending of the federally declared COVID-19 Public Health Emergency on May 11, 2023, please see the DHW website: https://publicdocuments.dhw.idaho.gov/WebLink/DocView.aspx?id=25746&dbid=0&repo=PUBLIC-DOCUMENTS
Elke Shaw-Tulloch is the administrator of the Division of Public Health, and the state’s public health officer. She has worked for the department since 1996 and was promoted to division administrator in 2012. Since February 2020, she has focused most of her time on responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is dedicated to strengthening the health, safety, and independence of Idahoans. Learn more at healthandwelfare.idaho.gov.
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