The Importance of Public Health and People with I/DD

Posted by The Arc of North Carolina

Author: Holly Watkins

Over the past few months, we have been hearing a lot about public health and the need for everyone to protect themselves and others. As of July 8, the United States has recorded over 3,000,000 cases of COVID-19 and 132,000 deaths. North Carolina has reported over 75,000 cases of COVID-19. This virus continues to spread quickly and does not discriminate.

Medical professionals and disease experts are working around the clock fighting COVID-19. Many of these same people are talking with reporters about public health and the need to protect one another. But what is public health and why is it so important?

Public health focuses more on the health of a population or community, rather than a single person. For example, health regulations at a restaurant or community event are put in place to protect everyone. Sometimes public health requires the cooperation of individuals to protect everyone; for example, wearing a cloth face covering to protect yourself and other people or requiring restaurant workers to wear gloves while preparing food for the public. These measures help protect the general public from getting sick.

People with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) can struggle to recover from contagious viruses, such as COVID-19. Many have compromised immune systems or chronic health issues that can prolong illness or make the symptoms more severe. If someone with I/DD has a caregiver who gets sick, they have to find someone else that can take care of them or they have to go without care. Being sick can also mean loss of employment income and that can be detrimental to people with I/DD relying on a job to put food on the table and pay other expenses.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on hospitals and healthcare systems, forcing them to make difficult choices in not allowing family or caregivers to be with a patient admitted to a hospital. Many people with I/DD struggle to effectively communicate their needs and need someone with them to be their voice and answer medical questions not covered in a chart. This is an issue we discussed in one of our previous blog posts (Allowing Parents or Caregivers to Accompany a Person with I/DD into a Hospital – May 11, 2020).

During this crisis, health experts are recommending simple things that everyone can do to support public health. Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, outlined three ways the public can help stop the spread of COVID-19: wear a cloth face covering, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart from other people. This can help decrease your risk of getting sick and will help keep other people from getting sick, too. You protect yourself and the health of the community.

We are modifying our normal routines – not visiting family, friends, and favorite restaurants. But in doing so, we are protecting the health of the public. This is critical now more than ever, especially for people with I/DD, their families, and caregivers.

Stay safe and remember to wear a face covering, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart from others.