“To protect and improve the health and well-being of all Arkansans.”

This is the mission statement that our state’s new Secretary of Health, Dr. Jose Romero, will strive to meet as he takes the reins at the Arkansas Department of Health.

Running the Department of Health is far from an easy task. My brother held the post in the early 2000s, and I remember the many challenges he faced during his tenure. Those trials become significantly harder in the midst of a public health emergency.

Dr. Romero is taking the helm following the departure of Dr. Nate Smith, who has accepted a position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he will continue to use his expertise to advance public health initiatives at the national level. Dr. Smith crafted and implemented the state’s response to Covid-19, worked diligently alongside the governor’s team to provide medical and scientific reasoning for pandemic-related decisions and was a steady hand at the onset of the public health emergency. His expert medical guidance and strong leadership will be deeply missed.

The good news is that Dr. Romero is the ideal person to build on Dr. Smith’s efforts. While announcing his appointment, Gov. Asa Hutchinson highlighted Dr. Romero’s long track record of working with Arkansas’s medical community and his “national reputation for his work with infectious diseases.”

I share the governor’s confidence in Dr. Romero’s abilities to lead us through these unprecedented times. That confidence is vital during a crisis as the public needs officials who can speak with authority on the challenges we face and offer guidance they can trust.

In the case of Covid-19, that responsibility lands squarely on the shoulders of our public health officials at the federal, state and local level. 

One of those top officials at the federal level was recently in Little Rock to discuss Arkansas’s coronavirus efforts with the governor and his team. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response director, noted an improvement in our numbers, saying that progress is the result of Arkansans “following the important, common-sense path forward to get control of this virus.”

She highlighted individual actions we can take, like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, as key parts of that strategy.

Along with Dr. Birx and her colleagues at the federal level, Dr. Romero and our public health officials at the county and city level are the voices we need to be listening to during this crisis. They have been the ones sharing crucial preventative information with the public while coordinating testing and organizing an effective response to outbreaks in our communities.

Our public health experts are very fortunate to have the best and the brightest working on the frontlines to overcome this challenge. The doctors, nurses and other medical personnel in Arkansas’s hospitals and facilities truly have been an inspiration. They have worked long hours, under high-risk conditions, with limited resources to provide care for Covid-19 patients. They are the embodiment of the word ‘hero.’

We can do our part to help them out by following the guidance and recommendations laid out by our public health officials. This includes frequent handwashing, practicing social distancing and wearing a mask when required or when appropriate space cannot be assured in public settings. We will beat this virus in a much quicker manner by listening to medical experts and acting on their advice.