Kara (Cover) Keller, MPH
What is your current role?
Infectious Disease Epidemiologist/Central Region Public Health Coordinator for Franklin County Public Health.
In your current position, are you playing a role in the COVID-19 response effort?
Yes, directly. Being part of the infectious disease team at a local health department has meant that I have been involved in the COVID-19 response since the beginning. My role has evolved throughout the incident, but my current position is the Contact Investigation Lead. This means my group is responsible for contacting individuals that were identified as a close contact to someone diagnosed with COVID-19 to provide them with quarantine information, instruct them to monitor for symptoms, and answer any questions they may have.
What is the main lesson or takeaway that you have obtained during your participation in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Flexibility and adaptability are far more critical in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic than I ever thought imaginable. There are plans in place, agencies conduct exercises to practice their response to a scenario, and processes are designed to work in everyday activities and in an emergency, but all of these things will be changed. An incident of this magnitude requires people and agencies to be flexible and adapt to the ever-changing situation. Plans or processes may not work as expected, guidance changes, and other unexpected challenges will arise and those who can accept and adapt to those changes, while continuing to move forward will be better off.
How did the VPH program prepare you for this position?
The VPH program provided a foundation that has allowed me to succeed in my career and in this pandemic response. The epidemiology courses I took in the VPH program have been invaluable. Of course, we did not learn directly about COVID-19, but having a good understanding about diseases and viruses has allowed me to translate that knowledge to COVID-19. Everything from incubation and exposure periods, virus mutation, isolation and quarantine and so many other topics are all part of my daily routine.
In addition to the epidemiological aspect, having a strong understanding of emergency preparedness and biosafety practices has also been beneficial. The courses in the VPH program provided an understanding of the incident command system, infection control practices, as well as personal protective equipment use. Throughout the pandemic these have been topics that have been interwoven into the response and having some general knowledge on these has been very valuable.
Overall, the VPH program provided exposure to a wide range of subjects and concepts, which for someone working in a local health department has been extremely advantageous. I didn't just memorize facts in the VPH program, but rather learned concepts that can be translated into various circumstances. I can easily and confidently say that the information I learned in the VPH program has prepared me for many real-world situations, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Any other comments or pearls of wisdom you would like to share with current students and alumni?
The hard and uncomfortable situations are where people grow the most. Take advantage of those times to learn new skills, gain additional knowledge and grow in your profession. This is applicable in so many other settings, besides just in the pandemic, or even in your career. At the end of the day, you'll have grown so much more from challenging yourself than taking the easy road.
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