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ASPPH Fellows on the Frontlines of COVID-19 

As our nation faces one of the largest pandemics in history, the field of public health is in the spotlight and graduates of ASPPH-member schools and programs are being called to action. A key example of this is with our very own ASPPH Fellows, who are stepping up to the challenge.  During the coronavirus crisis, ASPPH Fellows have had the opportunity to apply their strong academic backgrounds to a variety of response activities while gaining valuable skills and experience that will carry with them throughout their public health careers. To highlight their experiences, we have gathered six accounts of how ASPPH Fellows have contributed to the COVID-19 response over the past few weeks. Below are their stories.  

 

Adam Aasen, MPH

University of Minnesota School of Public Health 

ASPPH/CDC Public Health Fellow 

US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) 

Office of Global Affairs (OGA), Washington, DC 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have supported DHHS high-level meetings on the COVID-19 response by documenting and reporting to OGA senior leadership on international and domestic policy decisions and conversations. Additionally, I have contributed to the U.S. interagency international sample sharing working group that, among other pathogens, focuses heavily on tracking and addressing international policy issues for COVID-19 international sample sharing. I am also supporting the COVID-19 international modeling work stream as it informs U.S. government policy decisions on the domestic and international scale for response efforts. My work will continue to change as the response to the pandemic changes, and I am grateful to have a supportive learning environment and the opportunity to utilize my skills and abilities to support my team and office. 

During this entire COVID-19 response experience, I have learned too much to be able to put down on paper. From observing HHS senior leaders convene and lead intra- and interagency meetings, to contributing to policy drafting at the global level, gaining experience in this fast-paced, high-alert environment has and will continue to impact my personal and professional growth for the better. I am grateful to see the unrelenting dedication and hard work of OGA and my team, and I can’t thank them, and ASPPH, enough for the invaluable experience and support they have offered me during my fellowship. 

 

Jacob Clemente, MPH 

Emory University Rollins School of Public Health 

ASPPH/CDC Public Health Fellow 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Atlanta, GA 

Since mid-March, I have been deployed to CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) as the Deputy Chief of Staff (DCoS) for the Health Systems and Worker Safety (formerly Medical Care and Countermeasures) Task Force. We are one of the response’s larger task forces and our teams develop guidance on infection prevention and control, worker safety and health, and clinical issues, among other things. As DCoS, I support our Chief of Staff and the daily operations. Particularly, I oversee the task force’s spend plan, which spans projects and activities across all our teams and in multiple centers and divisions throughout the agency. I collaborate with stakeholders across the response and throughout the agency to ensure that our task force’s priorities are funded and can be implemented in a timely manner. Additionally, I assist in coordinating the staffing for our over 200 responders. Through my participation, I have gained a better understanding of the sheer amount of teamwork and collaboration that goes into emergency response. I have also learned more nuances about the federal government’s—and CDC’s—funding mechanisms and processes. It has been an honor to be a part of CDC’s COVID-19 response. 

 

Katrina Kennedy, MPH

 

University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health 

ASPPH/CDC Public Health Fellow 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), Atlanta, GA 

I just recently began my involvement with CDC’s COVID-19 response activities and am currently located in CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). I am serving on the Community Intervention and At-Risk Task Force on the WASH Behavioral Science Team. My primary responsibility is qualitative coding of CDC-Info inquiries to evaluate and inform WASH communication. I will also be supporting a pilot assessment of barriers to accessing clean water and hygiene facilities among people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings from this assessment will provide real-world insights into the feasibly of implementing interim CDC guidance among this vulnerable population during the COVID pandemic. I am learning about the spectacular capacity of the CDC to mobilize employees and build out teams to respond to a pressing emergency. The pace of work on the response is rapid while maintaining quality data and science. I expect to continue to learn more over the course of my deployment.  

 

Katharyn Kryda, DVM, MPH

 

University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health 

ASPPH/NHTSA Public Health Fellow 

US Department of Transportation (DOT), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 

Office of Emergency Medical Services (OEMS), Washington, DC 

As part of my ASPPH Fellowship, in January 2020, I began supporting the U.S. DOT’s COVID-19 response efforts in the Office of the Secretary of Transportation’s Office of Intelligence, Security, and Emergency Response, National Security Policy and Preparedness Division.  As a veterinarian and public health professional, I used my background in global health security and knowledge of emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential to provide input on preparedness and planning. 

In March 2020, I helped to stand-up the FEMA/HHS COVID-19 Healthcare Resilience Task Force (HRTF) – Prehospital/EMS Team.  Working with federal partners and representatives from national stakeholder organizations, I led the development of several FEMA/HHS HRTF guidance documents for the EMS and 911 communities. Providing EMS personnel with an overview of epidemiology and current COVID-19 literature and research resources enables first responders to make evidence-based decisions in the field. 

In addition, I am also supporting COVID-19 response efforts through data analysis and visualization.  Collaborating with colleagues at NHTSA and CDC, I planned a virtual training webinar held in April 2020 for CDC researchers to better understand the National EMS Information System (NEMSIS) and facilitate use of national EMS data for analysis at CDC.  I’ve used my epidemiology background to advise the NEMSIS Technical Assistance Center on improved data visualization and user experience of their National Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) Surveillance Dashboard, and I continue to provide analysis of EMS data to support FEMA/HHS HRTF efforts. 

These interagency experiences have contributed to my policy development skills and overall knowledge of pandemic preparedness and response at the federal level.  Regular engagements with stakeholder organizations and partners throughout government have helped me to understand how each agency’s authority and mission dictate available options when making policy or deciding on a course of action.  Solutions to many public health problems lie outside of traditional public health, and increased engagement between public health experts and decision-makers in other fields will be necessary to strengthen health security. 

 

Leigh Ellyn Preston, DrPH 

Texas A&M School of Public Health 

ASPPH/CDC Public Health Fellow 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Atlanta, GA 

In May, I deployed to Bismarck, North Dakota as part of CDC’s Healthcare Infection Control team where I acted as the team’s data analyst. My job was to assist the infection prevention and control subject matter expert with data collection and management in order to develop recommendations to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities.  This involved investigating data sources maintained by the different agencies involved in the emergency response that could answer the questions: when was the first positive test from the facility, was the first positive case a resident or a staff member, and what infection prevention and control guidelines prevented outbreaks or kept the virus from spreading in the facility. Identifying COVID-19 infections in long-term care facilities is important as the residents of these facilities are among the highest risk of severe outcomes in this pandemic. Tracking this data is important as the employees of these facilities, especially the healthcare workers, may work at several different facilities within a city or county. Because of the potential for severe outbreaks among this vulnerable population, and the implications of transmission between facilities and within the community, North Dakota implemented a mass-testing strategy in areas at higher risk for outbreaks, including every long-term care facility in the state.  

While in the field in North Dakota, I met with personnel from the North Dakota State Health Department, members of the National Guard, and the Incident Response Command Staff. This was an enlightening experience as it was the first time I had been involved with this kind of response.  Through this field deployment, I was able to identify challenges in outbreak data collection and management, and gain a deeper understanding of emergency response at the federal and state level.  

 

Rachel Zahn, MPH 

 

Emory University Rollins School of Public Health 

ASPPH/CDC Public Health Fellow 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 

Office of the Associate Director for Communication (OADC), Atlanta, GA 

As part of my ASPPH Fellowship, I work with CDC-INFO, which is CDC’s national contact center offering live phone and email agents providing science-based health information on topics covered throughout CDC. My team and I have been working with CDC programs and COVID-19 Task Forces to provide the CDC-INFO contact center agents with the most up-to date information that they can use to respond to COVID-19 inquiries from the public and health professionals. We draft “prepared responses” for them to use, and we review the CDC website daily to ensure that the information we provide for the agents matches the most current updates from CDC. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC-INFO contact center extended its hours to 24/7 to accommodate the increase in inquiries. My team and I work with the contact center management staff daily to ensure that everything is running smoothly, and I have been performing quality assurance by reviewing agent calls and emails and providing coaching where needed.  

In addition, I was involved with drafting and coordinating the recording of messages played for callers to CDC-INFO while they wait for an available agent. You can hear some of these messages, which include answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19, if you call CDC-INFO. Finally, I have also been helping the Joint Information Center (JIC) Content Team, which is part of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at CDC. For this role, I am assisting in responding to email escalations sent to them from CDC-INFO for their expertise. Working to address the communication needs of CDC by helping to provide the public and health professionals with the information that they need to make informed health decisions related to COVID-19 has been both challenging and rewarding. This experience has taught me that there is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into efficiently communicating with the public in a time of crisis, and I am glad to be part of this effort to provide individuals with the resources they need to stay safe and healthy.  

 

ASPPH fellowship programs offer opportunities for recent masters and doctoral level graduates, from ASPPH-member institutionsto round out academic training and gain hands-on public health experience while continuing to develop professional skills and expertise in public health. On-site mentoring from public health professionals provides valuable career guidance and networking opportunities. To learn more about ASPPH Fellowships, please visit our website at https://www.aspph.org/study/fellowships-and-internships/, or email TrainingPrograms@aspph.org