Message from the Dean

November 2020

Craig Blakely


It’s a remarkable time to be in public health.

We have witnessed a four-year attack on most of the population health infrastructure, but times are changing. Already, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are building their transition team with an overt agenda of taking on the COVID-19 crisis in America as the first priority. This new team is working on a vaccine distribution plan that will target frontline workers and those most vulnerable to its morbidity and mortality impacts, then the broader population. They will take on a marketing effort to help convince skeptics that the vaccine(s) are safe and effective. With the incoming administration, we will also see aggressive efforts to return the Affordable Care Act to pre-2016 levels of access and include additional options for coverage that safeguard pre-existing conditions clauses. They have also committed to taking on climate science, immediately by rejoining the Paris Accords, and then looking at long-term strategies that must be considered. Each of these actions have the support of national public health leaders and organizations and will contribute to population health in the long-term. 

COVID-19 has delivered the long-promised peak in the fall, linked to seasonal projections and the weakening of our efforts to isolate. Kentucky and Jefferson County are producing record numbers of cases almost daily. There will no doubt be a corresponding jump in hospitalizations, ventilator use, and unfortunately fatalities to follow. At the same time, we see growing evidence that the clinical workforce is increasingly exhausted and will likely struggle to meet the expanding population needs in the near term. On a brighter note, at least two of the major vaccine studies underway are producing very promising results. Many in our community are already participating in clinical trials, which include an unprecedented effort to ensure a diverse sample of participants—lending credence to efficacy findings across all subgroups of our population.

The University of Louisville has done a remarkable job of keeping case rates relatively low. However, case numbers among students, faculty, and staff have increased measurably in November, resulting in an additional push to be vigilant with mask wearing and avoiding unnecessary in-person contact. We will also discontinue in-person classes after Thanksgiving as planned. Overall, it looks like we will make it to the end of the semester, while many other universities gave up and returned to only online courses.

Typically, this time of year includes the convening of the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting. Even though it was virtual, SPHIS was still well represented with faculty, staff, students, and alumni  posters and presentations. Annual “Public Health Thank You Day,” which takes place the Monday before Thanksgiving, is also fast approaching. This year we should all seek opportunities to thank public health professionals and other first responders for their efforts on our behalf.

The end of fall semester also brings another cohort of students transitioning to alumni status. Congratulations to those of you wrapping up your studies and best of luck with next steps. Special congratulations go to John Craycroft, PhD Biostatistics, who was asked to provide the December 2020 commencement address. Unfortunately, commencement exercises will once again be a series of virtual graduation events. We hope our fall graduates will come back to campus for a traditional ceremony at the next point in time when we can safely convene.

In other campus news, the university is busy interviewing four exciting candidates who may serve as the next Executive Vice President and University Provost. If you are interested in learning more about each candidate’s vision, please explore the recorded sessions available on this website. The final candidate visited the campus on Nov. 11–12 with final deliberations occurring the following week.

For those of you preparing to return home to family for an extended holiday break, please continue to practice safe physical distancing. We look forward to you returning to campus for the spring semester healthy, refreshed, and ready to get back to work!

Be happy, healthy, and safe.

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Dr. Craig Blakely

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