Over the last decade or so, as we have served in the leadership of the Delaware Division of Public Health, we have remained incredibly proud of the division’s staff and the many innovations, programs and changes they have implemented to improve the health, safety and lives of the people of Delaware. Of course, there have been many challenges as well, the greatest challenge clearly being a significant part of the state response to COVID-19. The impact of this pandemic has been deeply felt in our state, starting with disruptions in our daily lives, and now with more than 284,000 Delawareans known to be infected, and almost 3,000 who died.
It is tragic that families and friends of those lost to COVID are suffering, as are those who contracted long COVID and are living with its effects. They are not the only ones whose lives were altered. The staff at the Division of Public Health were changed by a crisis that did not last a few days, or a few weeks, but two years and counting. The public health team, of which we are immensely proud, was on constant and repeated high alert for more than 26 months, through every emergency, through every surge, through every variant, through every setback, through every policy change and through every criticism.
At each point during this pandemic, DPH staff rose to the occasion. Throughout this crisis, they often put their roles as public health workers before their own health and well-being, and that of their families. Actually, we’d like to think they had their families at the forefront of their minds as they worked every day to protect not only those closest to them, but all Delawareans from the impact of COVID.
While we all work at DPH, we all still have the same challenges that other Delaware residents face. Our staff has wrestled with a lack of child care, struggles with remote learning, financial instability, the inability to visit elderly parents, the heartbreak of not being able to visit a sick or dying relative in the hospital, the loss of those we love and the need to avoid the people we love during the pandemic just to keep them safe.
Because many are considered essential, like many front-line workers in our state, DPH staff didn’t have the ability to work from home. They reported to the State Health Operations Center in Smyrna, or to their regular offices. Many worked for weeks or even months straight, including weekends and holidays, without a break. They sacrificed time with their children, their spouses, their partners. They missed dinners and bedtimes and other normal activities to ensure critical structures were in place, to scramble to create new processes and systems that had not existed before, or to field calls, meetings and complaints at all hours of the day and night.
And this activation took many of the DPH staff outside of their comfort zones. Some were called upon to lead initiatives where they had not led before. Others were asked to perform roles that they had not done before.
We are so incredibly proud of our team and the way they stepped up even when the challenges presented to us seemed overwhelming. And, through these past 26 months, there are a whole host of public health services not related to the pandemic that DPH staff continued to provide to Delawareans and will continue to provide for years to come.
We want to extend our gratitude to all DPH staff. Every single public servant played an important role in getting us to where we are now, even as this important work continues.
Humans are not designed to work that hard, in that heightened state, for that long. But the employees of public health — the public health family — never wavered in their dedication to create the best possible outcome for our state and its people. They overcame so many obstacles, even as they were mentally and physically exhausted. The sustained response to this pandemic has permanently affected many of us. But because of their efforts, this pandemic will not get the best of us. Thank you.
Dr. Karyl Rattay is the outgoing director of the Delaware Division of Public Health and Crystal Webb is the outgoing deputy director.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware's public health infrastructure battled the pandemic bravely