BOSTON – Local health officials were at the forefront of the state’s longstanding battle against COVID-19 – testing residents, enforcing virus restrictions, and setting up vaccination clinics.

Medical experts say the often underfunded and understaffed health authorities need more resources to ensure they are ready for the next pandemic.

Dr. Howard Koh, a professor at Harvard University’s TH Chan School for Public Health and former state public health officer, said the pandemic was a wake-up call to empower local health authorities who have a vital role in controlling the virus and protecting it Publicity.

“These local departments were overwhelmed and underinvested for too long,” he said. “That is one of the reasons we have seen such devastation.”

Dr. Carole Allen, president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, agrees that more funds are needed to strengthen local health officials.

Allen, a former chair of the Arlington Board of Health, said stronger local health officials will improve the state and federal response to future COVID-19 outbreaks, as well as other viral infections, natural disasters, and disasters.

“Local health authorities understand the needs of their own community, and this is especially true of minorities and underserved communities,” she said.

Allen said better communication and collaboration was also needed between local officials and federal and state agencies that have not always been on the same page during the pandemic.

Massachusetts health authorities had extensive powers before the pandemic. These have been expanded as part of the health emergency to include the power to close businesses, close roads and restrict access to public property.

Many health authorities were already understaffed and quickly overwhelmed by the myriad of health restrictions posed by COVID-19 for businesses and individuals.

Some health officials have been forced into the roles of police officers as they attempted to balance civil liberties with the need to protect their communities from outbreaks.

Governor Charlie Baker has recognized the importance of health officials in fighting the pandemic and has diverted additional funds to support their scarce operations.

In April, his government created a $ 7.7 million grant program for local health authorities to improve cross-border coordination.

Secretary of State for Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said the funding will help expand collaboration between independently operating health agencies.

“Strong local health authorities across the state will better prepare us for major future health care threats or pandemics,” she said in a statement.

Koh, who served as deputy health secretary during the Obama administration, said the federal and state governments need to make more concerted efforts to support local health systems.

“We urgently need to revitalize the public health system so we don’t go through this again,” he said.

Christian M. Wade runs the Massachusetts Statehouse for the North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Send him an email at cwade@cnhi.com.