DHS launches 'Thank You Tour' to recognize local health departments, COVID-19 heroes

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- State health officials kicked off a statewide appreciation tour to honor local health departments for their tireless work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Monday, March 14, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services launched a "Thank You Tour" at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison to recognize employees and frontline health care workers who stepped up to keep communities safe.

It comes two years since COVID-19 began impacting people's daily lives, which also created new challenges for those in the health care industry.

Public Health Madison and Dane County was the first of many local health departments to be honored on the tour.

Officials said it's not only an opportunity to show their appreciation, but also to discuss some of the lessons they've learned during the pandemic to be more prepared for what might come next.

"Wisconsin is truly in a better position today to respond, not just to COVID-19, but to other challenges because of people like you," DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said. “The pandemic has underscored the importance of investing in a strong public health infrastructure so that we may be better prepared for what may come in the future.”

During the event, Governor Tony Evers became emotional when talking about the sacrifices public health workers had to make to try and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their community.

"For all the things that you have done well and all the things that have happened to you where you just kept to yourself, thank you so much," Evers said. "Since day one, our public health [workers] and health care heroes have risen to the challenge, working around the clock to make sure Wisconsinites are healthy and safe.”

Now that coronavirus trends are showing promising signs as new infections continue to taper off, public health officials and researchers are hoping to build on the process they've made, such as expanding access to testing and vaccines to avoid pitfalls they faced over the last two years.

"Those challenges we've been through have built a great deal of knowledge for all of us on what works and what doesn't," said Timberlake. "Together, the efforts you all have engaged in have mattered tremendously to our entire state."

As part of the tour, DHS officials will be traveling across Wisconsin from March through May to see and hear directly from those who have been serving on the COVID-19 front lines. Stops include local health departments and tribal health clinics, aging and disability resource centers, COVID-19 vaccination and testing sites, health care facilities, vaccination community outreach grant awardee sites, schools and health care industry events.

Wisconsinites can participate by recognizing someone in their lives who has been involved in the COVID-19 response by submitting a note of appreciation on the DHS website.

DHS will share these messages on the website and social media platforms throughout the duration of the tour.

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