Emory EPI Responds: Hall County Outbreak Response Team
Category : #WeAreEmoryEPI
The Emory EPI Outbreak Response Team, led by Department Vice Chair Dr. Jodie Guest, has been working diligently this summer to support Hall County’s COVID-19 response through a variety of initiatives. Their efforts have centered around bringing free COVID-19 testing to communities at higher risk of transmission, including Hispanic & Latino poultry plant workers in northeast Georgia and Black communities in rural parts of the state.
Earlier this summer, Dr. Guest wrote a PROspective article in which she explained how relationship-building, actively listening to community members, and intentionally soliciting feedback have been essential strategies throughout her career to successfully engage in community partnerships. Despite having no prior connections to Hall County, when the call for assistance came in, she was able to build a successful partnership based on her work in similar communities by finding a shared goal. They are striving to, “change the course of the COVID-19 epidemic in a hard-hit community that already was struggling with generations of disparities and inequities.”
The Outbreak Response Team also includes eight EPI MPH students. They have spent this summer assisting with testing events at poultry plants in Hall County, doing community outreach to increase COVID-19 awareness, and providing support for families who are struggling during this time. Testing events involve a consenting process; conducting lab tests like nasal swabs, blood spots, and blood draws; and providing educational resources to participants. In May and June their team also worked with the Gainesville City School District to deliver meals and masks to children from lower income families. While delivering meals they also distributed educational flyers and activities for parents and children to learn more ways to stay safe and healthy during the pandemic.
Despite the challenges of working and communicating with participants in full PPE outside in the hot Georgia summer, this group of students has thoughtfully considered ways to engage with the community and use their public health skills to effectively teach people about prevention strategies. For example, in the last few months many of them have gained a new appreciation for the importance of eye contact and body language when trying to connect with participants while wearing masks.
This week we spoke with two members of the outbreak response team about their experiences working at the front line of the pandemic and what they have learned about community-engaged public health work.
Alicia graduated from Georgetown University in 2010 with a psychology major and Spanish minor. After undergrad, she worked a variety of office jobs in Washington DC and Denver before coming to Rollins.
“I’ve been most involved with Spanish interpretation at our testing events, which has been an amazing way to keep in touch with my Colombian heritage. I have also been providing the team with weekly updates on COVID-19 case counts in specific counties of interest around Georgia, giving me basic insights into presenting epidemiologic data.”
“My biggest takeaway about doing community-engaged public health work is how humbling it is. There is a big difference between being in the classroom learning about bias, SAS, and risk ratios and being in the field interacting with people who rely on us for our public health knowledge and skills. It’s a responsibility I never took lightly, but this has brought it to a whole new level.”
As the summer is concluding, Alicia is looking forward to diving into her second year EPI courses and applying what she will be learning about epidemiologic modeling to COVID-19. She is excited to learn about how models are made so that she can better educate her family and friends about the changing trends and predictions surrounding the pandemic.
Saarav received his Pre-Med Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Global Public Health, with a minor in Spanish, from New York University in 2019.
“Conducting participant-based, in-person research is one of my passions because of how it allows me to directly connect with the communities we are aiming to help. Participants are able to see me as a friendly face, and I can see them as a human rather than just a row in a spreadsheet. Seeing children excited to pick out a mask in their favorite color or watching friends learn how to properly social distance is what validates our hard work at the end of the day.”
“Working long hours in full PPE on extremely hot days does get difficult, but the impact of our work keeps morale high. I am always excited for another testing day because of how well our team works together, even in the face of the pandemic. This work has solidified my intentions to continue working in community-based research.”
In his second year at Rollins, Saarav is looking forward to starting work on his Capstone and beginning the job search process. In the future, he is hoping to combine the skills he has gained through the field-work this summer with his experience working with urban LGBT populations in sexually transmitted infection prevention.
Thank you for reading this week’s edition of Emory EPI responds, stay tuned for another feature on members of the Emory EPI Outbreak Response Team later on in this series, and for more highlights of the incredible work our students have been doing this summer to put their epidemiology skills to use responding to the pandemic and supporting the most severely affected communities.