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How COVID-19 Overshadows Other Public Health Needs

McLean County Health Department sign
Emily Bollinger
MCHD administrator Jessica McKnight says the department has scaled back or paused various health promotion campaigns in the last year because COVID-19 has demanded so much time and energy.

McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight said the agency has had to scale back or delay various health promotion campaigns in the last year because COVID-19 has demanded so much time and energy.“COVID has touched all of the different programs we offer,” McKnight said. “Even if it’s not directly involved in COVID response, (we are) still dealing with how COIVD has affected some of those programs.”

Jessica McKnight
Credit McLean County
Jessica McKnight

For example, McKnight said the department hopes to bring vaping education to schools, once all students are back in the classroom, and bolster its mental health first aid training. She said the training is online for now.

“(Like) everything else on COVID, finding ways to adapt and how can we do these programs in the world we are in right now,” McKnight said.

She said many of the department's client services, including its dental clinic and HIV and STD testing, remain at reduced capacity.

She said the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program remains mostly virtual with curbside pickup.

In-person services were eliminated almost entirely during the early stages of the pandemic to avoid the potential of coronavirus spread.

McKnight said the department will likely offer more services virtually if they don't have to be in-person, such as case management visits with clients.

Long-term impacts

McKnight said the coronavirus pandemic could have lasting effects that will force public health agencies to adapt.

“Time will tell us. It may even shift what public health priority issues are,” McKnight said. “COVID-19 will definitely have an effect on what we see in our data.”

Knight said mental health was a main focus for public health in McLean County before the pandemic and the need may be even greater now.

The most recent Community Health Improvement Plan also identified access to care and healthy living as health priorities.

McKnight said since the pandemic began, the department's nearly 75-person staff has had to work long hours, cross train for different tasks and spend anywhere from 75% to 100% of their time dealing with the coronavirus.

“This has been a trauma for everyone at the health department and the world,” McKnight said. “We’ve gone through a pandemic. We are still going through a pandemic. We’ll need to be cognizant in understanding we have been through something pretty monumental that has affected all of us.”

The pandemic has claimed 177 lives in McLean County over the last year.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.