Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, health departments had limited staff, resources and time to support the diverse public health needs of our communities. This system will be further strained as the epidemic grows. We must immediately create a national public health reserve to shore up public health systems. 

Reserve networks fill critical human resource gaps during emergencies. In the U.S., 67 percent of all firefighters are volunteers who backstop local firefighters in an emergency. In the health domain, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Epidemic Intelligence Service program has about 160 active “disease detectives” who are deployed to aid in outbreak investigations. Support for natural disasters and other public health emergencies is provided through the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), a national network of approximately 180,000 volunteer health care professionals and first responders. 

Read the entire op-ed at The Hill, and listen to a follow-up conversation with Dr. Drake. Alison Drake, Assistant Professor of Global Health, is a co-author.