A decade before Michigan and its main city became another major focus of coronavirus in the United States, authorities consistently and dramatically cut investment in public health.
Approaching bankruptcy, Detroit dissolved most of its public health department and delegated it to a private nonprofit organization. When the department reopened in 2014 at the back of the municipal parking office, its per capita budget was just a fraction of what was needed.
For seven consecutive years, then-director of public health Renee Branch Canady was looking for what else to cut. “It was just cut, cut, cut,” Canady said. When she left in 2014, all of the health educators, who teach people how to prevent disease, were already gone.RELATED
What happened in Michigan also happened across the United States after the 2008 recession. And although the economy recovered, public health funds did not, according to experts and budget figures.
The deficit persisted despite several alarming outbreaks, from H1N1 influenza to Ebola, and has left the United States vulnerable to COVID-19, experts say.
The cuts came with Democratic and Republican administrations. While there is no single number that reflects all federal, state, and local spending, the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the central public health agency, fell 10% between fiscal 2010 and 2019, according to an analysis by Trust for America’s Health, a public health research and advocacy organization.
Between 2008 and 2017, state and local health departments lost more than 55,000 jobs, a fifth of their workforce.
New York state is where there are more cases of COVID-19 in the United States today, but the numbers are increasing in places like Detroit, where the city approached 4.00 cases on Sunday, with 129 deaths.
In Kansas, former Governor Sam Brownback proposed a “red state experiment” to cut taxes. State spending on public health, not including federal funds, fell 28% between 2008 and 2016.
The cuts meant a “shift in responsibility that shifted from the state level to the county seat,” said Kansas Gov. Democrat Laura Kelly. “And we saw it in public health.”
In Maine, the administration of former Governor Paul Le Page stopped replacing public nurses who cared for families during the opioid crisis. Of 60 nurses, about 20 remained until the legislature decided to act.
The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus exceeded 1.2 million worldwide on Sunday, with almost 66,000 deaths, according to the count by Johns Hopkins University.
In most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But in some, especially older adults and people with pre-existing conditions, it can cause more serious conditions like pneumonia or even death.