Our Global Voices Posts
I first learned about what would soon be called the COVID-19 pandemic after I returned from the 2020 New Year holidays and met with a colleague to resume work as usual. He mentioned that a “new coronavirus” had been identified in China. I thought to myself, “hopefully it won’t be as serious as SARS.”
I was managing CDC’s Global Rapid Response Team at the time and was asked to identify CDC employees who were available to travel and work at U.S. ports of entry, mainly airports. What started as a need for a “dozen or so” CDC responders turned into a request for 125 people to work on the response — about 35% of the entire team roster. As I was working to fulfill the request, I was asked to join a new task force established to handle international matters on COVID-19 at CDC.
I deployed to the response work from January to March of 2020. When I joined the International Task Force, our team was focused on reducing the spread of the virus by developing testing, surveillance strategies, and recommendations to prevent further infections.
I’ve spent my entire career in public health, beginning at age 18 as an AIDS counselor in Florida. For the past six years, I’ve been working in global health security helping countries prepare for outbreaks and pandemics, so I felt like I had a lot to offer as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unfold.
It was so early in the pandemic, and we were still putting together response teams and identifying areas of focus for our work. After joining the International Task Force, I became the point of contact for China and Asian CDC country offices and supported their response efforts by facilitating, sharing, and developing scientific and policy documents. I also became the liaison to the State Department and USAID, working on joint guidance from the U.S. government and developing contingency plans for embassies.
I’ve been at CDC for 16 years now and in public health for 25 years. Of those, I’ve been in emergency response and preparedness for 10 years. I have never worked as hard or as long as I have this past year. In addition to working nearly every day, I was developing relationships with other CDC employees working on the response so that we could streamline information sharing and collaboration to respond quickly, succinctly, and accurately to questions from CDC’s leadership and country office directors.
I worked hard, along with my co-workers, to share the latest information with the public as quickly as possible. At the same time, I was quite concerned for my colleagues who were overseas and could be exposed to COVID-19, with increasingly fewer options to return to the US.
My team was actively working to support the team in China, while at the same time working closely with subject matter experts in Atlanta to better understand what we were facing. Any new scientific information was used to develop recommendations to slow down the spread of COVID-19. We were under constant pressure to ship personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, as well as COVID-19 tests to CDC offices in other countries. Then the outbreak of COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess cruise ship happened, and I had to quickly learn about maritime law and quarantine procedures and coordinate with multiple countries and partners as the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus grew.
I’ve spent years working with the China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Cambodia CDC offices. I have spent time working in other countries, and I know a lot of the staff working in the country offices. Understanding the cultural context and knowing country staff was really helpful in communicating what we did and did not know early in the pandemic, especially when we had such limited information about what was causing COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic also obviously affected my personal life. For the first three months of the pandemic, we kept to our family pod of four. During the summer of 2020, we saw my parents and two other families in outside settings. Everyone took the necessary precautions when we met. We felt we needed that break and distraction for the benefit of our mental health. It was scary, but we felt that we had all stayed safe by not socializing, always wearing masks outside of the home, and not going out except for necessary errands like grocery shopping. When we could, my family and I would go hiking or take a walk, play board games, try new recipes, or watch a TV series.
Now that we’re more than a year into the pandemic, we have broadened our social pods as our family and friends get vaccinated. We recently traveled to Colorado and Florida; however, we did maintain the same protocols as at home. In Florida, it was so tempting to join one of the snorkel and sunset cruises, but we avoided it to remain safe from the coronavirus.
Throughout all of this, I happily realized that we have a strong family bond. Despite being locked up with my partner and two teen sons for a year, we still enjoy spending time together and still have a lot to talk about. I’m so proud of my sons, who’ve shown true resilience and thrived, despite the situation.
Working on CDC’s COVID-19 response has taught me that no matter what your experience and skillset is, each response to an outbreak is different. Sometimes previous experiences will be very useful in handling a new outbreak. However, it’s also important to be open to new ideas and ways of working and to be flexible given the challenges of the day.Posted on by
Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, I was a Public Health Institute/CDC Global Health fellow in CDC’s Central America office located in Guatemala City, Guatemala. I developed communication strategies that showcase the important work of my colleagues in the region. I also managed disease surveillance projects in Honduras and the Dominican Republic and helped with research Read More >Posted on by
Brasilia, BRAZIL – A native of Brazil and a medical epidemiologist by training, I joined the CDC South America Regional Office on August 31, 2020, as its Senior Technical Advisor. The global pandemic had been going on for most of 2020, and I remember the sense of dread I had when I first heard about Read More >Posted on by
When CDC staff go into the field to investigate outbreaks, a diverse group based in Atlanta supports their every move. Scientists create research protocols, logistics coordinators handle travel and lodging, someone looks for funds to pay for the work. I am an epidemiologist. Earlier this year, as the Atlanta lead for a team that deployed Read More >Posted on by
MANAUS, Brazil – I was born and raised in Brazil, near the city of São Paulo. There, I got a medical education at a top institution, a privilege very few have. When I decided to come to the United States to pursue residency and training, it was not without some self-doubt. I knew the opportunities Read More >Posted on by
Imagine losing a loved one to a tragic illness like meningitis, an illness that still ravages parts of the world. Meningitis represents a daunting and deadly health challenge for Africa, but today there is hope. April 24th—World Meningitis Day—presents an opportunity to both raise awareness about the dangers of meningitis and build on progress that Read More >Posted on by
When I heard COVID-19 was spreading around the world, I struggled personally, knowing we would be responding for a long time. I needed a silver lining to keep me grounded and give me hope so that I could focus on helping my country. As COVID-19 spread across Europe, it was clear that COVID-19 was going Read More >Posted on by
I have seen many important and positive changes around Chagas disease awareness, diagnosis, and treatment over the past few years, but there is still much to do. Chagas disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. Chagas disease is usually spread by triatomine bugs but can also be spread by an infected mother to her unborn baby. It can lead to serious heart disease and, less often, Read More >Posted on by
When I first heard COVID-19 was spreading around the world, my initial thought was, “This will be contained.” I started feeling unsettled watching the virus give us a hint of its power as it breeched more and more borders. I never imagined that it would cause havoc at the scale it did. I wanted to Read More >Posted on by
Rachael’s work in Bangladesh took place August – September 2019, before COVID-19 emerged. The setting was ideal. We were on the top floor of a hotel where a training was being held in the Fall of 2019. Our chairs overlooked the expansive beach of Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and we had just finished a light snack Read More >Posted on by