Whitney Whitfield is a senior at the IU Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health. When she received news that the Indiana State Department of Health needed extra support in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Whitney couldn’t resist the opportunity to support Hoosiers. She signed up for several call shifts, which she intends to continue participating in until this public health crisis is over. Whitney shares more about her life as a public health student and her experience on the COVID-19 Call Team.
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What are you studying? When do you expect to graduate? Who’s Whitney?
Answer: This is my last year in school. I plan to graduate in May. I was on the pre-med track up until this year, when I decided that I had an interest in public health consulting and epidemiology. I work as a medical scribe in a hospital, and I know that I eventually want to pursue my hospital administration degree and possibly my PhD in Epidemiology.
Q: How did you find out about public health?
A: When I switched to public health, it’s because I feel like you can make more of a difference at a community level. I didn’t know much about epidemiology until I took some epidemiology classes. And I was like, well, this is cool. I wish I would have known about this before!
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your experience on the COVID-19 Call team? What are you doing during each shift?
A: Working at the State Department of Health is quite interesting. My background as a medical scribe has helped triage lots of the calls. During each shift, we are provided with information on how the COVID-19 crisis in Indiana has evolved – including the new information that has been presented to the public. On an average day, the shifts are four hours, and I typically answer 16 calls a day. We’ve responded to over 20,000 calls since this started.
I have really enjoyed my time talking to people and being on the front end to help triage the situation. It’s cool to be able to feel like you’re making a difference. I believe that in order to make a difference you have to be the change you wish to see in the world, which is what I am trying to do. All it takes is one person and if you will not be the one, then who will?
Q: Can you share a little about the different calls that come in?
A: It’s very interesting being able to answer the questions people have. People often ask about a fever or other symptoms, and I’ll share information about COVID-19 but also about other colds and viruses. It’s usually just a chance to provide someone with more knowledge. I also speak Spanish, which is cool to be able to talk to people and help the Spanish-speaking population in Indiana.
Q: What are some of the most frequent calls you get?
A: A lot of people are calling in to talk about their coughs, colds and things like that. Others are calling in to share that people aren’t social distancing, or asking questions like is it okay to play bingo still? We are not here to tell people that they need to get a test or don’t get a test. We are here to help comfort the public. I like to tell them that we’re all going to get through this together.
Sometimes, people call who are very appreciative that you have taken the time to speak with them.
Q: What do you wish people knew about COVID-19?
A: I wish people knew that it was serious. I still feel like there’s a lot of uncertainty behind it. Working in the ER, you see the real aspects of it.
Sure, there are a lot of times people get to go home from this virus, but there’s a lot of people that are not able to go home. There are a lot of people that may never go home. And it’s terrible that these individuals are not able to be with their loved ones during their time of death.
I think that social distancing is essential. Keeping those most vulnerable safe is our main concern.
I think a lot of younger people don’t realize that it could be them who are on a respirator ventilator. Even if you’re young, you can still get COVID-19, and it still can have treacherous effects on young people.
Q: Is there anything you would like to say about working in the call center?
A: The people who are working in the call center are very smart and intelligent. And they all have a heart because sometimes we can get frustrating calls, but we get to take a step back and put ourselves in the people’s shoes. They’re able to have empathy for other people, and they do it in a smart way.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who has COVID-19 symptoms but on a milder side?
A: Stay home for an isolation period of 14 days. If nobody else in your house is sick, try to isolate yourself from other people in your home to reduce exposing them.
Q: What else do you wish to share with our readers?
A: I want people to know that this is a serious disease. Even though we may be stuck in our houses and altering the way we live, I do feel that it’s essential that we do [social isolation] to make sure to get the best outcomes.
Contact your loved ones in different ways, your grandparents especially. Use this time to try to find different ways to connect with your community. Also, I think it’s so important to go outside and get some sunlight even if it’s just like in your backyard. Take a walk around your neighborhood… social distancing, of course. Vitamin D does wonders for the soul.
Many thanks to Whitney for allowing FSPH to tell her story. If you would like to share your efforts related to COVID-19, submit your information here.