MPHTC Student Integral to County COVID-19 Response

A photo of Kaci Ginn.Kaci Ginn, an undergraduate student employee with the Midwestern Public Health Training Center, has been an integral part of Jones County, Iowa’s COVID-19 response. She’s been liaising with county departments, consistently engaging with the county board of health and board of supervisors, and connecting with health departments across the state. At a recent meeting, a reporter from the local Monticello Express asked her about what she was doing with Jones County and wrote an article about Kaci’s three stints with Jones County.

Kaci recently wrote up what it’s been like studying public health and working for a local health department in the midst of a pandemic. Take a look at what she has to say:

Responding to an event such as the current Public Health emergency requires the coordination of a lot of different players. One part of public health that I had not been exposed to in public health practice had been public health emergency preparedness (PHEP). PHEP was something that I was in the process of taking a course on and I knew that planning was a big part of public health practice, but I did not fully have a grasp on just how important preparedness is for the health of communities. Being able to incorporate what I am currently learning in regards to PHEP as well as coordinating public health’s response with the emergency manager in the county has been an amazing opportunity to see the greater reach of public health activities in practice.

I worry a lot about the mental health of those who are living in unsafe homes right now. Whether homes are unsafe due to food insecurity, domestic abuse, heightened financial stress or stress and anxiety in general, isolating may be exacerbating these issues and cutting them off from needed resources. Another thing I worry about, especially in the rural community where I am working, is the mental health of farmers who are at the mercy of the weather and now the added stress of volatile markets as a result of the pandemic, because, in my experience, farmers are usually the last ones to reach out for help when they are in need.

During this time of social and physical distancing, my coworkers at the health department as well as emergency management are utilizing online platforms such as Slack and video conferences as well as text messages and phone calls. We are also holding weekly briefings via video conference with community partners including schools, cities, healthcare entities, community services providers, and others.

Staying in contact with loved ones can be hard to make a priority, especially when the hot topic of conversation is something that you are thinking about, more or less, all day every day. Having boundaries in those conversations with loved ones has been essential to maintaining relationships and my own sanity. Some days those boundaries were “I would appreciate it if we could keep our conversation light, and not talk about COVID-19 or work today,” and some days it was “I am okay with talking about COVID-19 today, but please use discernment when bringing up things you may have heard in the news that err more towards speculation than fact.”

“Look for the helpers” is a line that was featured in a classmate’s speech at my high school graduation ceremony, and it is one that still reminds me to look for the beauty in the hard times. One of the most inspiring things that I have seen in the small community where I am working is the willingness of community members to help in any way that they can. When our emergency manager put out a call for homemade masks due to an anticipated need for PPE, there were countless people who volunteered their time and limited resources to make masks or sent monetary donations to help in whatever capacity they were able to. There are small acts of kindness from people checking in on elderly neighbors to an emergency food delivery program from a coalition of county agencies occurring each and every day. It can be easy to get caught up in the big, scary things that are happening, but I promise there are small, beautiful acts happening at the same time if you look closely.

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