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On the front lines: Epidemiology students tackle COVID-19

As communities around the globe try to better understand COVID-19, epidemiologist far and wide are working to understand that effects of the outbreak by monitoring its spread and trying to understand when life might possibly return to normal.

For students at Stempel College, that means being on the front lines at the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Broward County.

“I am working as part of the State Emergency Response Team for COVID-19,” said Victory Bryant, a master’s student. “In my role at the DOH I have been working as an Epidemiologist assisting with establishing a monitoring unit for following up on medium-risk individuals in Florida. I also call Broward County residents for health checks, report sensitive cases, conduct interviews and provide recommendations for persons under investigation (PUIs) who report having illness and much more.”

As part of the official State of Florida response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the students applied to assist in the Florida Department of Health efforts in March 2020; quickly changing their plans to help in the effort to reduce the virus’ impact on the state. Florida, with more than 25 percent of its population over the age of 65, has a large at-risk population; it is essential that epidemiologist, through the DOH, understand the virus before it becomes more widespread.

As the students prepare to graduate this Spring 2020, they look to what they learned in class to help them navigate this quickly changing situations that have become the mark of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“My classes provided me with the tools necessary to understand how outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics affect individuals, particularly having learned about transmission routes, incubation periods and terminology that others are not familiar with, making it possible for me to do my job at the DOH,” said Deborah Pulido, a master’s student. “This outbreak has drawn attention to the importance of case definitions, contact tracing, and the essence of investigation in terms of tracking the movement of viruses.”

Fortunately for the students, they are able to work alongside their classmates, who together are able to share in both good times and bad in the race to understand and stop the novel coronavirus.

“Though during this time anxiety and stress do seem to set in because of stress, the satisfaction of helping the community has been the most fulfilling part of this experience. Knowing we can make peoples connection to testing and care easier is what fueled me to want to participate in this effort,” said Angel Algarin, who will also be graduating with his doctorate degree. “We are lucky to come into this new environment at the DOH together, it helps reduce to stress levels since we already have camaraderie and, of course, know the same people.”

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