A Word of Optimism for Public Health in Dark Times Before the Dawn

by Justin B. Moore, PhD, MA, FACSM

As a public health professional, and as a human being who cares about other human beings, I let out a sigh of relief on Saturday, November 7th, 2020. Most major new organizations had called the 2020 presidential election for Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and I was about to chow down on a delicious Cuban sandwich with my amazing wife. I would soon call my seventy-two-year-old mother to celebrate the news. Life, for the first time since early 2020, seemed like it might return to some semblance of normalcy in the foreseeable future. Like the majority of American voters, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my chest. And it was a really good sandwich.

After a day of celebration, I awoke on Sunday to reassess our reality as a nation. We are just as socially fractured as we were before the election. We’ve made little tangible progress on issues of health equity and social justice. The COVID-19 pandemic is at its peak. Millions of Americans lack health care, and the public health infrastructure is still badly fractured and underfunded. Maintaining mental health for many Americans is a daily struggle. When we could all use a hug, we cannot get one without risking our health and the health of others. Times remain bleak.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” ~ Winston Churchill

Optimism may be in short supply, but it’s time to manufacture more. For the first time in four years, the American people have leadership that believes in science, access to health care, and the importance of public health. As I sit in my home office on inauguration day 2021 writing this piece, I am filled with an unfamiliar feeling of…hope. I feel hope that we can come together as an American people and begin rebuilding the public health infrastructure and workforce. Hope that we can begin to address social determinants of health through access to education, access to health care, and a fair living wage. And, most optimistic of all, hope that we can reach out to those who hold differing priorities and opinions to have a conversation. Perhaps this conversation will not resolve those differences, but it may encourage us to reflect on our own convictions and allow others to feel heard in a way that we have not been heard for four years. Perhaps together, we can truly become the nation we aspire to be, where life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a right of all rather than a privilege awarded to a select few.

Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is the Associate Editor of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science of the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. Follow him at Twitter and Instagram. [Full Bio]