20 Apr 2021
International journal of environmental research and public health;
While the health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on frontline health care workers have been well described, the effects of the COVID-19 response on the U.S. public health workforce, which has been impacted by the prolonged public health response to the pandemic, has not been adequately characterized. A cross-sectional survey of public health professionals was conducted to assess mental and physical health, risk and protective factors for burnout, and short- and long-term career decisions during the pandemic response. The survey was completed online using the Qualtrics survey platform. Descriptive statistics and prevalence ratios (95% confidence intervals) were calculated. Among responses received from 23 August and 11 September 2020, 66.2% of public health workers reported burnout. Those with more work experience (1-4 vs. <1 years: prevalence ratio (PR) = 1.90, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.08-3.36; 5-9 vs. <1 years: PR = 1.89, CI = 1.07-3.34) or working in academic settings (vs. practice: PR = 1.31, CI = 1.08-1.58) were most likely to report burnout. As of September 2020, 23.6% fewer respondents planned to remain in the U.S. public health workforce for three or more years compared to their retrospectively reported January 2020 plans. A large-scale public health emergency response places unsustainable burdens on an already underfunded and understaffed public health workforce. Pandemic-related burnout threatens the U.S. public health workforce's future when many challenges related to the ongoing COVID-19 response remain unaddressed.