Lauren Weber, Laura Ungar, Hannah Recht and Anna Maria Barry-Jester of Kaiser Health News teamed up with Michelle R. Smith of The Associated Press for an extensive investigation  into decades of public health defunding that has exacerbated the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The team uncovered just how ill-equipped state and local health programs had become when the pandemic hit. When a bungled federal response left local health departments to often fend for themselves, the pandemic placed an overwhelming new strain on these underfunded systems. The reporters spoke with “more than 150 public health workers, policymakers and experts, analyzed spending records from hundreds of state and local health departments, and surveyed statehouses.” Judge Alexandra Witze, a freelance science journalist, called the story, “an exhaustive and eye-opening investigation into a state and local story that has not gotten as much coverage as the failed federal response to the pandemic.” As AP’s Michelle R. Smith put it, “The story we told about the chronic underfunding and defunding of the public health system in the United States is well known among those in the field but little understood outside of it. Public health workers provided real world examples of how this has hobbled the nation’s response to COVID-19 and other public health threats.” Lauren Weber of Kaiser Health News added: “Public health workers are sometimes paid so little that they qualify for public aid. Working seven-day weeks for months on end, they fear pay freezes, public backlash and losing their jobs — even amid a pandemic. It is an honor to tell their story.”