Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Public health remains an integral part in the fight against COVID

Infographic featuring health personnel wearing face shields and mask with "National Public Health Week" across the top of the picture National Public Health Week 2021 runs from April 5-11.

Recommended Content:

MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | MHS Toolkits and Branding Guidance | Sexual Assault Awareness & Prevention Toolkit | Public Health | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Although they may not be the ones putting needles in arms, public health personnel continue to play a crucial role in the ongoing battle against COVID-19. Often, this means keeping track of virus-related data, as well as facilitating the flow of information to both internal and external audiences.

"Public health's role in combatting COVID is very similar to our role in anything else related to communicable disease, which is a large portion of what we do," said Air Force Public Health Career Field Manager Chief Master Sgt. Sheryl Green. "We do a lot of risk communication — working with commanders and making sure we're messaging appropriately to our communities and vice versa, making sure those communities have access to those commanders."

This means ensuring information gets to its intended receivers. It also includes forming partnerships and coordinating with local health departments to make sure that efforts on installations better reflect what is happening in nearby communities.

"Communication is huge, not just on base but also within our civilian communities and civilian agencies," said Green.

The information that is being disseminated needs to be easily understood and easily acted on.

"Through outcomes from products such as surveillance, data modeling, and business analytics, we've been able to inform and assist the operational community with planning, logistics, tracking, forecasting and medical intelligence," said United States Public Health Service Capt. Kimberly Elenberg, chief of the Defense Health Agency's Total Force Fitness Division. "Further, a key role for public health professionals has been the interpretation of complex data into easily understood, actionable information."

Additionally, DHA's Immunization Healthcare Division has played a key role in providing critical information to beneficiaries through publishing articles explaining the vaccines, participating in social media events, conducting stakeholder briefings, and leading question-and-answer sessions at local events.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Green said much of the focus has been on stopping the spread.

"Breaking the chain of infection" is a term that is near and dear to us, and that's where contact tracing comes into play," said Green. "A large focus of the COVID response has been contact tracing and trying to figure out who has been exposed and what that picture looks like for each community."

Within the Air Force, she said, public health is closely involved in tracking the number of positive cases, as well as the number of vaccinations being administered by its clinicians.

"In regard to surveillance and testing, our responsibility is to maintain close communication with the laboratory community and making sure we have visibility of all positive tests," said Green.

Public health's function is mirrored throughout the services.

"Our staff have worked tirelessly to make sure policies were synthesized and updated based on the latest research and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, interpreted in the unique context of Naval operations, and shared with operational decision-makers," said Navy Capt. (Dr.) Jesse Geibe, executive officer of operations at Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center in Portsmouth, Virginia. "Whether we are advising on masking, testing and surveillance strategies, the impact of vaccination, or myriad other COVID-19 issues, we keep the health of our sailors and Marines and completion of the mission first and foremost."

Green said that, while public health professionals have become much more flexible and agile over the past year, the traditional role of public health hasn't necessarily changed.

"The scope has obviously gotten much larger, which has caused them to have to rework how they approach disease tracking and tracing from an overall perspective, and they've done an amazing job doing that," said Green.

Military health personnel setting up a trap for mosquitos
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Brandi Spriggs, 97th Medical Operations Squadron health technician, sets up a dry ice trap to catch mosquitoes during the Zika virus outbreak in August 2016 (Photo by: Air Force Arman 1st Class Cody Dowell, 97th Air Wing Mobility Public Affairs). 

Green said one of the biggest lessons learned over the course of the pandemic has been in training.

"We train on disease surveillance and epidemiology and outbreak investigation, but not necessarily something of this scale," said Green. "That's definitely something we need to look at as we move forward - our training, how we have that established, and the different types of training that we provide."

Specifically, the pandemic has highlighted a need to provide more advanced training on infection prevention and control.

"We have to make sure our individuals are prepared, with the knowledge and capability to effectively support pandemic response in the field," said Green.

An additional lesson learned, and one not confined to public health, is the need to prevent or reduce fatigue in front-line health care workers.

Green reiterated the appreciation she has for what the public health community has had to endure, but also what they've been able to accomplish over the past year.

"The American Public Health Association has called this the most challenging public health crisis of our lifetimes," Green said. "I think our personnel have done a tremendous job while being on the front lines since the beginning and they continue to do wonderful work under extremely stressful, prolonged conditions."

A positive takeaway from the pandemic response is that it has prepared the public health community, and the military medical community at large, for what may come next.

"We don't know how long this is going to go on or what the next crisis will be. We've certainly dealt with outbreaks before - Ebola, Zika, H1N1 - but what is the next big pandemic-type disease going to be?" asked Green. "Based on the experience that all of our public health professionals have gained over the past year, they will absolutely be ready for anything that comes their way in the future."

Within the DHA, the inter-service pandemic response has shown the potential for greater interoperability between the services going forward.

"The coordination among the service public health entities has been invaluable in combating the COVID pandemic, which does not care what color uniform a service member is wearing. While health surveillance within the DOD has always been conducted to the highest scientific standards, it is now done through the lens of improving the medical readiness of the individual service member," said Army Col. Douglas Badzik, Armed Forces Health Surveillance division chief.

Geibe echoed this point.

"Public health work with other medical professionals in the fleet, Marine Corps and Military Health System has been significantly enhanced to include sharing information on outbreaks to slow the spread, investigating sources through contact tracing, and providing collaborative support for testing and immunization," he said.

During the first full week of April each year, the APHA brings together communities across the United States to observe National Public Health Week as a time to recognize the contributions of public health and highlight issues that are important to improving our nation's health. This year, NPHW runs from April 5-11.

You also may be interested in...

USECAF receives insight into COVID19 vaccinations at Reserve wing

Article Around MHS
10/8/2021
Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones visits with 433rd Airlift Wing members at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 2, 2021.

Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones visited the 433rd Airlift Wing here to meet with Reserve Citizen Airmen leaders on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination efforts, Oct. 2, 2021.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

Compassionate Caring with COVID Vax Commitment

Article Around MHS
10/6/2021
A  female doctor poses for a photo.

When pregnant patients have an appointment with Lt. Cmdr. Megan Northup at Naval Hospital Bremerton, they get more than a qualified and caring OB/GYN physician.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Health Promotion duo optimizes health on Incirlik Air Base

Article Around MHS
9/30/2021
Air Force Capt. Sydney Sloan, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion element chief (right), and Air Force Senior Airman Gloriann Manapsal, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion technician (left), promote making healthy choices at the Sultan’s Inn Dining Facility on Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The 39th Operation Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion team provides and integrates evidence-based programs to optimize the health and readiness, even during these unprecedented times.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Total Force Fitness | Coronavirus

Retired colonel leads Fort Irwin COVID response mission

Article Around MHS
9/28/2021
Army Col. Richard Hopkins, the COVID-19 response coordinator with Weed Army Community Hospital, collects paperwork from a Soldier who received the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination event.

Retired Army Col. Richard Hopkins volunteered under the Army’s COVID-19 Retiree Recall Program to return to service as the COVID-19 response coordinator for Weed Army Community Hospital and Fort Irwin, California.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

ARNORTH military support to FEMA begins in Tennessee, continues in five states

Article Around MHS
9/24/2021
Prepared COVID-19 vaccine shots wait to be administered to an Airman. Members of the 134th Air Refueling Wing were eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccines during Unit Training Assembly here May 2nd, 2021.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, approximately 20 military medical personnel deployed to Tennessee to support civilian healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients in local hospitals.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 can lead to long-term health concerns

Article Around MHS
9/23/2021
Debra Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran at Ft. Carson, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.

Debra Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran at Ft. Carson, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

6th Medical Group Delivers Mandatory Vaccines

Article Around MHS
9/21/2021
An Airman from the 6th Medical Group prepares a COVID-19 vaccine for distribution at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

Airmen from the 6th Medical Group began redistributing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, on Sept. 9, 2021. This comes after the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum on Aug. 23, 2021, mandating all active duty personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

After the ventilator COVID survivor advocates for vaccine

Article Around MHS
9/15/2021
Tim Harris is sedated while on a ventilator

Tim Harris, a mobilization and planning specialist, U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, is sedated while on a ventilator at Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, June 27, 2020.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Army Medicine Europe Provides Additional COVID Vaccinations for Immune Compromised

Article Around MHS
9/13/2021
Franz Dietrich, a German local national assigned to Training Support Activity Europe, receives a COVID-19 vaccination at the 7th Army Training Command's (7ATC) Rose Barracks, Vilseck, Germany, May 4, 2021. The U.S. Army Health Clinics at Grafenwoehr and Vilseck conducted a "One Community" COVID-19 vaccine drive May 3-7 to provide thousands of appointments to the 7ATC community of Soldiers, spouses, Department of the Army civilians, veterans and local nationals employed by the U.S. Army. (U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)

Army medical treatment facilities in Europe are now offering an additional dose of COVID vaccine for immune compromised beneficiaries.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Public Health Prevents Disease in Pods

Article Around MHS
9/13/2021
U.S. Air Force Capt. Spencer Carrier, 86th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron physical therapist, stands in Pod one at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Sep. 4, 2021. Carrier spends his time outside of work with his church to prepare food for evacuees and their families and also collects donations to pay for clothes, diapers and toys to donate to evacuees in support of Operation Allies Refuge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Jared Lovett)

As part of Operation Allies Refuge, the Public Health team at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, is continuously out in the evacuee camps sharing tips and enforcing regulations to keep Airmen, volunteers and evacuees healthy. By encouraging everyone to wash hands often and wear masks and gloves when appropriate, Public Health works to mitigate the spread of disease and prevent illness.

Recommended Content:

Public Health

Food Safety Month: Commissaries Join Other Agencies in Highlighting Foodborne Illness Prevention

Article Around MHS
9/13/2021
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Spc. Crystal Vice, a veterinary food inspection specialist with Public Health Activity Fort Carson, checks the expiration date on a peanut butter container Oct. 13, 2020, at the Fort Carson Commissary. Food inspectors randomly check food and other items before they’re put on the shelves for sale. (Photo by Eric E. Parris)

During Food Safety Education Month in September, DeCA joins the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Food Safety Inspection Service, the Department of Health and Human Services and other organizations in reinforcing foodborne illness awareness and prevention.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Public Health
Showing results 1 - 11 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.