Although the number of epidemiologists in state health departments soared during the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday that states were still well short of the public health workforce officials said they needed.
The report, based on an early 2021 survey of state epidemiologists from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, reinforced wider concerns that public health workers across the country are now less equipped to respond to a pandemic than they were at the start of 2020.
Even as the number of state epidemiologists grew, especially in areas like the Covid-19 response, the workforce in common infectious diseases, chronic diseases and maternal and child health declined, the CDC said. Epidemiologists are responsible for monitoring disease, developing responses, investigating health threats, and studying public health services and healthcare.
And while the number of state epidemiologists grew 23 percent between 2017 and 2021, to a total of 4,136 positions, fewer states in 2021 said they had the resources to fully monitor population health problems and research and identify dangers that can affect people. to diagnose.
In all, state officials said they needed an additional 2,196 epidemiologists to provide basic health care, the survey found.
“The response to Covid-19 has put a strain on the U.S. public health system,” the CDC report said. “People are still not meeting staffing and capacity needs.”
The federal government has invested money in public health response activities during the pandemic, including $7.66 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act in 2021, the CDC said. It’s not clear how states’ public health needs or staffing levels have changed since the study was conducted in 2021.
The CDC warned that public health needs predictable levels of funding over time.
Even before the pandemic, public health was often underfunded and neglected. A combination of unpredictable funding, diminished authority to impose health regulations, and staffing difficulties have made the job of state and local public health departments all the more difficult.
Funding for epidemiology was fragile, the CDC reported. By 2021, epidemiological activities depended on federal money for 85 percent of their budget, but states weren’t sure how long that money would last: 39 percent of federal money was earmarked for Covid-19 work for limited periods of time.
The CDC report tracked epidemiological positions only in state health departments, and not in other government agencies.
Among the areas where states reported being the shortest staffed were genomics, mental health, oral health and occupational health.