In June 2020, Andrea Radford, MPH’10, learned about a contract epidemiology position in Florida. As a public health professional who was actively following social distancing protocols, she decided to use her vacation time to serve as the Cancer Control Strategic Partnerships Manager at the American Cancer Society. After speaking it over with her husband, she submitted her resume and was selected by the agency to serve as a contact tracer in Florida.
When she returned, she realized how exciting it was to work in a position like that in another state, and gain a different perspective of public health outside of Indiana.
Now, she is serving as a COVID Investigator in Texas. In this role, she contacts anyone who has a positive COVID test to identify if they recently traveled out of the state, visited anywhere locally, what medical risk factors there may be, and if they experienced symptoms. After collecting this information, she counsels individuals on the protocols they must follow to help stop COVID-19 spread in Texas.
“These include isolation, household contacts quarantine, and I answer any questions they may have to help provide education,” Radford said. “The most frequent question we receive is if they can contract COVID-19 again and if they’re eligible for the vaccine. And, most people are surprised to learn that if they have a family member with a positive COVID-19 test, that they must stay home for 20 days.
“Every single time I am speaking to someone, I think about my time as a student and I think about Dr. Greg Steele. He would always tell us how different public health would be if people would practice simply washing their hands. I often think about his research in various outbreaks, and rely on that education. I’m always reminding people to wear their masks and wash their hands.”
COVID-19 has impacted all nonprofits financially, and this opportunity helped Radford continue to serve the community in a different capacity.
“This is an excellent opportunity to gain experience and learn skills to collect data and provide education to the public, but the hours are long and there are different restrictions for each traveling position,” Radford said.
“There are some weeks where I’ve worked 40 hours, and there are some where I am working 57. But it’s risky. There have been outbreaks among the team I am on.”
One of the reasons these positions are available is the lack of public health workforce in the country. In addition to supporting Texas contact tracing efforts, Radford is training individuals in epidemiology work.
“Some individuals have never heard of public health before! This is new work, and this is the first time they interact with the health department and are learning about community spread,” she said.
“We are still battling COVID. We just faced a winter storm, and soon we will head into hurricane season. Public health teams, pandemic response and emergency preparedness will have to work together to ensure we can face acts of nature without an increase in COVID cases.”
As a student in Dr. Cynthia Stone’s policy class, and Radford wasn’t aware at the time just how meaningful that education would be. Having been a part of the response in three different states, she has witnessed first-hand just how essential policies are in an emergency like COVID-19.
“The policies that are in place to keep us safe matter, and having consistent policies in place can help protect us.”
While Radford does not know how long she will be supporting the response in Texas, she encourages FSPH students and alumni to be open to new opportunities. Sometimes opportunities present themselves in ways they were not expecting.
“Remember that public health is everywhere and we are always needed.”