Understanding the Impacts of COVID-19 on the Workforce

November 02, 2021 | Joanne Pearsol

Close-up of staff putting their fists together in a circle as a symbol of teamwork.The impact of the COVID-19 response on the public health workforce has been profoundly felt by employees and the agencies they serve. Across the country, unplanned leadership transitions, early retirements, and personnel scale-ups have all impacted who the workforce is and what they do day-to-day.

Many of those who have remained are feeling depleted and battered; a CDC survey in April of this year reported that 53% of the state, tribal, local, and territorial public health workforce respondents reported symptoms of at least one mental health condition in the past two weeks.

Additionally, a recent study led by the de Beaumont Foundation and the Public Health National Center for Innovations predicts that an additional 80,000 full time equivalents are needed just to provide the minimum package of public health services, let alone respond to another emergency on the scale of a pandemic.

In order to support and build the public health system the country needs, we need data specific to governmental public health. The 2021 Public Health Workforce Interests and Needs Survey (PH WINS) officially launched in state health agencies and select local departments this fall. In its third iteration (previously fielded in 2014 and 2017), PH WINS captures workforce demographics, as well as perspectives on:

  • Employee engagement and morale.
  • Training needs.
  • Current public health issues and concepts.

This year, the survey will collect new information to help us better understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the workforce and inform necessary implementation strategies agencies can employ. For instance, the survey now includes questions to address the role and amount of time dedicated to the COVID-19 response, as well as feelings of stress and perceived safety at work.

We recognize that public health agencies are still in response mode and daily schedules remain hectic, but data of this nature, particularly at the organizational level, is imperative to help agencies better understand what their employees are experiencing and shed light on the types of strategies that would be most helpful to strengthen organizational supports, retain the current workforce, and plan for the workplace of the future.

For agencies that are accredited by the Public Health Accreditation Board, PH WINS is accepted as meeting the workforce needs assessment requirement. Results can inform workforce and training curriculum plans during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The value of this data is more apparent than ever before. Participating state and local departments should encourage staff to make their voices heard today! For more information about PH WINS, go to PH WINS on the de Beaumont Foundation website or contact workforce@astho.org.