The CDC’s Matchmaker
My role in the COVID-19 response is facilitating and tracking deployments for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Epidemiology Workforce Branch, which includes fellowship programs such as the Epidemic Intelligence Service and the Laboratory Leadership Service. Fellows in these programs have the experience, skills and training to deploy at a moment’s notice.
Our response has developed a great deal since the novel coronavirus first came to the United States. Many of us have been deployed to the field to conduct epidemiological and clinical studies, help with infection control, and provide surge capacity to state and local health departments. Others are supporting the response remotely from the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center. There, we analyze data, write up findings, provide remote technical assistance and answer clinical inquiries, and liaise with a variety of federal, state, local and private partner organizations.
Teams reach out to my program for help in filling specific staffing needs. I also reach out to various teams when we have available staff I think could be an asset. Essentially, I’m a matchmaker for staff and roles within the COVID-19 response. I must keep track of where everyone is and provide updates.
I’m grateful I can contribute to these efforts and help get the right people into the right roles, but it’s a very hectic time.
I’ve had the honor of working with this program on other responses, like Ebola and vaping-associated lung injury from e-cigarette use, but this is much different because it’s an all-hands-on-deck type of environment and nothing has ever lasted this long.
Normally, we provide emergency short-term technical assistance to state health departments who request our support. Sometimes, we have weeks to plan the logistics, staffing and objectives. Other times, a state calls and asks that we send a team of four Fellows the next day.
Our state and local health partners are equally swamped. Staff in the field may be going into areas where there is an increased risk of them being exposed to the virus, and they may be worried for their families’ well-being. It’s stressful knowing the reality of the situation and the sacrifices our frontline workers are making for the greater good.
Before the end of the semester, I had no conscious break between work and classes. I had to force myself to take time away from both but, honestly, it felt selfish to focus on anything outside of the response.
I had class Mondays and Wednesdays, and it was a miracle I got any schoolwork done after work on Thursdays and Fridays. Weekends were for writing papers, completing assignments and studying. Fortunately, my supervisor and colleagues at the CDC were incredibly supportive of my schooling, and I was able to finish the semester successfully.
I have good days and bad days. On bad days, I try to accept that’s just how it is, and it’s OK. I’ve always had a lot on my plate, so managing stress isn’t new. I’m lucky because I was a Peace Corps volunteer, which taught me how to cope with isolation, uncertainty and things out of my control.
It’s a scary and stressful time for a lot of people. We should all remember that showing more compassion to others can go a long way.
Photo courtesy of Eileen McGowan