Update from Dr. Molly O’Dell for September 16 Edition

This year has been interesting, to say the least. It is easy to get overwhelmed or caught up in a stressful situation and forget about the positives. Over these past six months, I have had the opportunity to witness the public health professionals in the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health District pull together, tackle new challenges, and display tremendous amounts of dedication, empathy, collaboration, and resilience. I wanted to feature some success stories from our health district team members as a way to share some positives on how we’ve supported the community to stay safe during COVID-19. 

Amy Beahm, Public Health Nurse Senior, has been leading logistical efforts in the COVID response. Through these efforts, the health district has been able to provide community partners with PPE, Education, and Fit Testing when needed. This resulted in strengthening a partnership with the Near Southwest Preparedness Alliance who continues to support these community partners as we move forward. 

Robert Foresman, Public Health Emergency Coordinator, expressed how staff have performed exceptionally well throughout the event. Many were learning on the go and the quality of their work demonstrates their commitment to public health and to the citizens of the Roanoke City and Allegheny Health Districts.

Paula Bittinger, Environmental Health Technical Specialist, serves as a point of contact for food facilities that have questions and concerns regarding COVID-19. Paula has assisted over 30 restaurant operators where she has navigated scenarios such as if a staff member tests positive, guidance on isolation and quarantine, whether it’s necessary to temporarily close the restaurant, instructions for deep cleaning, the identification of any close contacts to a COVID-positive person, and how to reopen safely. This rapid response has been beneficial in preventing outbreaks and as a way for restaurants to develop stronger protocols in order to keep employees and customers safe.

Lex Gibson, Epidemiologist, has worked hard with various higher education institutions throughout COVID-19. As higher education institutions make difficult choices to balance safety with their mission, providing those who get sick with the chance to isolate and limit spread helps everyone in the community. Higher Education faced an incredibly difficult time when planning their reopening. They faced a balancing act with students, parents, staff and advisory boards all offering their expertise and assistance, often with opposing options and views. They have done a commendable job in adhering to CDC, VDH and the governor’s reopening guidance for institutions of higher learning. They provided our local health districts with the opportunity to consult on their plans and suggest improvements. We knew there would be cases and outbreaks in these institutions, but thanks to pre-planning efforts there was ample space for isolation and quarantine.

On a more individual level with community members, Teresa Byer, Public Health Nurse Supervisor and Acting Nurse Manager, shared a scenario involving an elderly male who was positive with COVID and was also a dialysis patient. All family members who normally provided transportation were currently quarantining. He also experienced other barriers for support, such as the transportation service not able to transport him and the center not wanting to provide dialysis while he was positive. Health District staff assisted by networking with local community resources to eventually have him admitted to hospital to get the needed dialysis. 

This article provides just a small snapshot of positive examples, and as we continue on with COVID plus our other programs and services. We will continue our work to make our community as healthy as possible!

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