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Health district recognized for emergency preparedness

Free Lance-Star - 2/3/2024

Jan. 30—The Rappahannock Area Health District is one of 550 local health departments nationwide recognized for its ability to plan for, respond to and recover from public health emergencies.

The health district, which covers Fredericksburg and the counties of Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford, earned recognition from the National Association of County and City Health Officials by meeting the benchmarks required by Project Public Health Ready.

The project is a partnership between the national association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its goal is to protect the public's health by equipping health departments with the tools needed in all stages of a public health emergency.

The public-health incident that's probably foremost in people's minds is the COVID-19 pandemic. The RAHD disseminated information on the virus, its different variants, when local outbreaks occurred and the frequently discussed importance of proper hand-washing.

Early on in the pandemic, the health district offered free COVID-19 testing, and motorists lined up for drive-thru events and the chance to get their nostrils swabbed. When vaccines became available, the health district also offered details and clinics for those.

But the pandemic isn't the only type of disaster that health districts prepare for, as the list also includes infectious diseases, natural disasters and biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological events.

The recognition reflects the "effort, dedication and cooperation on the part of our team," said Dr. Olugbenga Obasanjo, RAHD district director.

"Whether we are facing severe weather, a pandemic or other emergency situations, we recognize the importance of being ready to respond and protect the health of our community," he said.

Project Public Health Ready confirms that health districts have thorough and coordinated emergency response plans in place and that staff has proper training, according to a news release. Health departments are evaluated by their peers on their ability to meet national standards for preparedness.

The health departments also must collaborate with state, local and community partners to develop plans, and the RAHD regularly works with emergency managers and representatives from schools and hospitals in the region.

Staff work is supported by volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps, and the district currently has 738 people signed up for duty.

Lori Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, commended the local health district for "being a model of public health emergency preparedness.

"Local health departments play an essential role in creating healthy, resilient communities that can respond to and recover from disasters," she said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

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