Health workers and Covid-19: Amy Thoreson
Amy Thoreson is the deputy director of the Scott County Health Department. First in a series of interviews with health care workers about working through COVID-19.
Tell us about your job before COVID-19.
My job is to oversee the daily operations of the Health Department. Fortunately, I work with a great team so most days, things run smoothly. One unique thing is that we provide the medical care for the Scott County Jail, so I would “go to jail” a couple times a week. I would spend time with a variety of colleagues working on things to improve our department and community. Ironically, I was part of a county team developing a continuity of operations plan for the county and each of our departments in case of disease, power outage, security issues, you know, 2020. We had just finished developing a department strategic plan that will push us in areas of health equity, customer engagement, and access to care.
How has your job changed because of the virus?
For the 21 years I have been working in public health, we have been trying to bring attention to what public health does because it’s always been in the shadows. Well, COVID-19 has brought a lot of attention to it! Our department is working seven days a week to interview cases and complete contact tracing. I am part of the team that is here every weekend, so the job that’s really changed due to COVID-19 is mine as wife and mom. We have regular briefings with local and state partners. We’ve been meeting weekly with the schools since early July. My phone rings a lot more than it ever did before with questions from partners on various situations that they are trying to plan for or respond to. If I’m in charge of pulling cases, particularly lately, that’s all that I do all day…pull them from the state system, write up ones that come from the hospitals and clinics, look for duplicates and get them to staff. We are also planning for how to vaccinate the community for a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.
Can you tell us about what contract tracing is all about?
Contact tracing is all about trying to stop the spread of COVID-19. We know that the virus is spread primarily through close contact. So, we want to interview a positive case to figure out the people that he/she has been within 6 feet of for 15 minutes or more during his/her infectious period. We then call them and give them recommendations about self-quarantining so that if they get sick, they don’t spread it to someone else. People can get sick anywhere from 2-14 days after they were around someone with COVID-19 so it’s important that they stay home and away from others that entire time, even if they don’t have symptoms or test negative.
What is something you would like St. Paul people to know about the health professionals who are on the front lines of the disease?
There are a lot of health professionals on the front lines of this response…at the hospital, at the doctor’s office, at the nursing home, at the school, and at your local public health department. We want this to be over as much as you do. There is a tremendous amount of pride in what we do; two staff have delayed retirements to continue to serve the community, and one came back from retirement to help. We are your neighbors, friends, members of your congregation, and I can promise you, we are not interested in being “government in your business.” We are just trying to keep us all safe and healthy.
What are you looking forward to once a vaccine is approved?
A vaccine is just one step towards ending the pandemic. We don’t know when it will be ready and how many people will want to receive it so it won’t be a magic pill where a vaccine will equal the end of pandemic. The steps we can take now to get us closer to an end are to wear face coverings and to keep our distance whenever we are around people we don’t live with.
What I am most looking forward to when the pandemic is over is giving hugs…and taking a vacation!