How Prioritizing Public Health Saves Lives


As all of us hunker down and do our best to “flatten the curve,” I hope you and your family are staying safe and healthy. I thank you, more than ever, for your support of the Strategy Center’s work.

On my mind, as I work from home and check in with loved ones, is that the coronavirus pandemic is the strongest reminder that I hope any of us will ever experience: prioritizing public health saves lives.

When government leaders prioritize public health, they can save lives by helping to protect communities from frightening infectious diseases like COVID-19. Just like they can save lives by keeping chemicals linked to cancer out of our food and drinking water.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is revealing many weaknesses in our public health system. In fact, the Washington Post reports[1] that the United States spends only $19 per person on public health, while spending $11,000 per person on treatment.

We must defend our health. We must strengthen the systems and laws that can protect us.

Early testing and preventative action—before people are harmed—makes all the difference in stopping a pandemic. When people can’t access tests, as is happening across the country with COVID-19[2], their lives and the lives of others in their community are put at great risk.

These same principles apply to our advocacy work in environmental public health. That’s why, for example, we work for widespread access to testing for cancer-linked PFAS “forever chemicals” in drinking water. When people can’t access those tests, their lives are also put at risk.

It is infuriating that Americans’ lives are endangered—not only by this frightening virus, now, but by the failure to prioritize public health.

In our home state of Maine, we are grateful to Governor Janet Mills’ efforts to increase testing and act quickly to limit gatherings to prevent new infections. Other states and municipalities across the country are also showing leadership. It is at the state level, too, that we’ve been seeing policy wins to protect children and families from toxic chemicals.

Again, I want to thank you. Because change for public health protection starts at the grassroots, in our communities—it happens because people like you speak up and demand it. And so, as we now protect our families and neighbors in ways we have never before imagined, let’s remember that prioritizing public health saves lives every day.  

That’s what I’ll keep fighting for, and I thank you for fighting with me.

For now, please stay safe and healthy, and feel free to be in touch,
Mike Belliveau
Executive Director
Environmental Health Strategy Center

P.S. For good, authoritative resources on how to keep yourself safe during this epidemic, please be sure to refer to the recommendations from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Please take care of yourselves.

[1] “Coronavirus Shows Why We Need Better Public Health Funding, Experts Say.” The Washington Post, March 12, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/coronavirus-shows-why-we-need-bett...

[2] “Sick People Across the U.S. Say They Are Being Denied the Coronavirus Test.” The New York Times, March 12, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/12/us/coronavirus-testing-challenges.html.