Parents see their children off to school in the morning, expecting they’ll return safe and sound. That’s why it was so puzzling and distressing when 22 students got sick at Portland’s Reiche Elementary School one day last week.

As the investigation continues into what caused the Reiche outbreak, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has had a central role — just one of the many ways in which the agency takes on Maine’s public health issues.

The CDC faces a significant roadblock, however, in the form of a proposal to cut 11 percent of its workforce. Lawmakers who want to safeguard their constituents’ health and well-being should resist this attempt to slash the agency’s resources.

The next state budget calls for eliminating 40 vacant CDC positions. The proposal comes at a time when Maine lacks both a state and a deputy state epidemiologist — whose roles are to coordinate strategies to combat infectious diseases — and 14 of the roughly 50 CDC public health nurse positions remain vacant. (Public health nurses run vaccination clinics and respond to infectious-disease outbreaks.)

There comes a time when it’s impossible to do more with less, even among public workers, who are used to accommodating belt-tightening initiatives.

CDC employees have been instrumental in the follow-up to the outbreak at Reiche, where 16 children vomited and six others suffered stomach pain shortly after lunch on March 10. The state did laboratory tests on a beet salad that was served that day at no city school other than Reiche. The results were inconclusive, and the inquiry is continuing, an agency spokesman said Wednesday.

When multiple people develop symptoms so quickly, it’s important to be able to call on public health professionals. If they find that the source of the illness is a food that’s still being sold, they can have it pulled from the shelf. And even if they can’t pinpoint the cause, they can rule out some possibilities and let those affected and their families know what to do next.

Maine’s public health system has been a national model for its success at lowering teen smoking rates and at mobilizing care providers, schools and other local stakeholders to collaborate on addressing chronic disease in Maine communities. And that’s in addition to the vaccination clinics and other front-line CDC efforts, like its response to the Portland incident.

Reducing the agency’s staffing would sacrifice the gains we’ve made and undercut our ability to respond to the health challenges of the future.

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