[For members of the public, staying at home and sheltering in place isn’t selfish, it’s generous. Social distancing helps keep the virus from infecting others at the same time that it flattens the curve of the spread of the pandemic, giving health facilities a chance to provide care over time.]
Public health is efficient, a culture changer and a commitment. It’s not simply a more expensive version of private health.
When the water supply is reliable, the air is clean and the public health system is working well, we hardly notice it. Nutrition, access to healthcare and the safety of transport are easy to take for granted. When we hire the government to be responsible for public health, we give up small amounts of independence and money. But it creates enormous benefits, worth far more than they cost.
First, it’s cheaper and more reliable for a few trained engineers to test and maintain the water etc. than it is for each person who consumes it to do so.
Second, health, like the weather, is something that people bring up in conversation but rarely do anything about. By centralizing action, we make it more likely that something actually gets done.
Third, individual humans are bad at long-term thinking. Patient systems often outperform individual actions when it comes to public health.
Often, it’s only coordinated action that can help the entire community. And coordinated action rarely happens without intentional coordination. Don’t do it because you finally got around to it. Don’t do it because it is in your short-term interest. Do it because we all need it done.
It’s difficult to overinvest in building and running competent public health systems and management. And sometimes we don’t realize how important the system is until we see how unprepared we are. [Which is why, alas, today is a good day to stay home].
Thank you to every public health worker and medical professional who is on the front lines right now. We’re grateful for a lifetime of sacrifices and commitment.