Guest editorial: "Public Health is Where You Are" for National Public Health Week

Editor's note: In recognition of the upcoming National Public Health Week running from April 4-10, the Grundy County Board of Health speaks on this year's theme for the week-long event, as well as reflecting on COVID-19 after over two years since the pandemic's start.


This year marks the 27th anniversary of National Public Health Week (NPHW), observed April 4-10. The theme for NPHW is “Public Health is Where You Are” and will include a different theme for every day of the week:

  • Monday, April 4: Racism: A Public Health Crisis 

  • Tuesday, April 5: Public Health Workforce: Essential to our Future

  • Wednesday, April 6: Community: Collaboration and Resilience

  • Thursday, April 7: World Health Day: Health is a Human Right

  • Friday, April 8: Accessibility: Closing the Health Equity Gap

  • Saturday, April 9: Climate Change: Taking Action for Equity

  • Sunday, April 10: Mental Wellness: Redefining the Meaning of Health

As we reflect on this past year, let us acknowledge and thank our local public health department and public health partners, as public health is undoubtedly, “Where You Are”!  

Just two years ago, Iowa witnessed its first three cases of COVID-19 on March 8, 2020, after three individuals tested positive after returning from a cruise to Egypt. Shortly after that, Grundy County observed its first case of COVID-19 on April 3, 2020.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Grundy County Public Health (GCPH) consists of two public health officials:  Katie Thornton-Lang, Program Coordinator, and Michelle VanDeest, Office Coordinator. Katie and Michelle have put in countless hours over the last two years managing the COVID-19 pandemic in additional to their regular work. COVID-19 vaccine distribution continues as they shift into the “recovery phase” of the COVID-19 pandemic while remaining vigilant.   

Per Thornton-Lang, “While it can be hard, I want to acknowledge the challenges we all faced: confusing messaging, ever-changing guidance, trying to decide what is best for each of us, losing loved ones…that will always be the hardest part of all this for me. I am hopeful as we move into the recovery phase, and want to reflect on the positives that did take place in 2021.”

In 2021, GCPH collaborated with the Grundy County Memorial Hospital (GCMH) and other community partners to launch a COVID-19 vaccine campaign to educate, raise awareness, and ultimately increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in the county. The goal was that those aged 12 and older in Grundy County would receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to raise the vaccination rate of the county to 70%.

Grundy County achieved this goal in November 2021 through a variety of strategies, including providing access to COVID-19 vaccines at four locations in the county, a COVID-19 vaccine incentive program, pop-up vaccination clinics throughout the county, educational booths, and print and digital media educational promotions. This could not have happened without the collaborative efforts of a healthcare preparedness planning group comprised of various stakeholders throughout Grundy County.

Thornton Lang states, “Working with our healthcare partners at GCMH, pharmacies, local clinics, long-term care/assisted living facilities, EMS, etc., has been a wonderful experience. Hopefully, connecting with our local stakeholders, businesses, schools, and childcare centers will remain a strong relationship for various educational and information sharing platforms. … It’s amazing what we can achieve when we can work together.”

GCPH also completed the Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) and the Health Implementation Plan (HIP) from the summer of 2021 to the fall of 2021. Given the prioritization of the COVID-19 pandemic, GCPH enlisted the help of four online public health students from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. One Doctorate in Public Health Student (DrPH) oversaw the project, worked closely with GCPH, and precepted three Masters in Public Health (MPH) Students. The top four themes that emerged from the CHNA were (1) mental health, (2) access to healthcare, (3) emergency planning, response, and communication, and (4) obesity, nutrition, and physical inactivity. GCPH will be working on the HIP over the next five years with various community partners to address the needs identified on the CHNA, with the ultimate goal of improving the health of all those that live, work, and play in Grundy County. 

GCPH has begun to resume regular activities such as school programming, other infectious disease investigations and follow-up, school vaccine audits, child passenger safety programs, and rejoin community meetings and initiatives throughout the county. 

The Grundy County Board of Health wants to thank Katie and Michelle for their hard work these past two years. We know it has been very challenging, and we appreciate all that you have done for the residents of Grundy County. During NPHW, we celebrate all that you have accomplished this past year and will continue to achieve throughout the year! 

Finally, thank you to all of our healthcare partners in the county who continue to provide support and collaboration to ensure that the residents of Grundy County have access to care. If you see a public health official or public health partner during NPHW, we encourage you to thank them. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us the need and added value that public health services can bring to our community and the resiliency of the residents of Grundy County. 


Respectfully, the Grundy County Board of Health 


Lexie Hach, MA, Chairperson

Crystal Petersen, RDN, LD, Vice Chairperson

Jessica Eilers, RN 

Julie Johnson, PsyD, LMHC 

Nick Rains, PA-C, ATC


The Grundy Register

601 G. Avenue - P.O. Box 245
Grundy Center, IA 50638
Telephone: 1-319-824-6958
Fax: 1-800-340-0805

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