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Editorial: Make sure health is among most important priorities

Which Rowan County departments are among the most important? When money is tight, which funding priorities are worth dipping into savings for?

For many, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and public safety are at the top of the list. Social Services might also be near the top of folks’ department lists because of the role in public assistance programs and child protective services. How about Emergency Services, which includes emergency medical services, emergency management and a fire division that houses the county fire marshal’s office?

Don’t forget about the Rowan County Board of Elections, which manages the public’s selection of leaders who make policy, set budgets and solve problems.

The truth is important work is done by all county departments. It’s hard to adequately and completely state the ways in which employees keep the community functioning or single out one as being the most important.

In the previous year, however, some of the most essential employees in Rowan County government have been in the health department. Now, county departments are submitting budget proposals or have already done so and are waiting for a determination about funding requests. It’s important county leaders don’t diminish the health department’s budgetary importance as vaccines continue to be administered and, hopefully, the pandemic peters out. If projections turn out to be true, county officials may have $28 million in federal relief funding to which a significant portion could be allocated to pandemic response.

Because COVID-19 has proven to be more severe for people in poor health, including obesity, the Rowan County Health Department’s duty to publicize, model and enable healthy lifestyle choices should have a more prominent position in budgetary discussions. Parks projects delayed because of tight budgets might be due for a revival.

Rowan often finds itself below average when North Carolina counties are compared for community health. Maybe that’s why Rowan County has also found itself below average when it comes to how communities are faring for COVID-19.

Sure, community health is a complicated issue that relies on many factors, including access to health care and good-paying jobs. It requires people avoid unhealthy behaviors and choose ones that are more likely to add years to their life.

It requires good mental health, too. These are areas where it’s hard for local elected officials to have a major impact.

Rowan County commissioners, though, can take steps that make it easier for people to choose healthy activities. It’s time to put health among the community’s most important priorities.

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