Katharine is an Epidemiology MPH student at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. Katharine is currently working for the Minnesota Department of Health’s COVID-19 Response Team where she does case investigations that help with contact tracing and gathering important information on positive COVID-19 cases in MN. Learn more about her unique experience as a UMN SPH below.
What drew you to public health?
[KATHARINE] After graduating college, I worked in a lab on a project investigating the ways that HPV takes advantage of our cell’s machinery to drive the production of its cancer-causing viral proteins. While I loved characterizing the interplay between HPV and human cells, I felt that I could use my career to make a bigger impact by addressing peoples’ access to HPV vaccines and cervical cancer screenings. Then, I became a Community Health and Malaria Prevention Volunteer with the Peace Corps, and finally landed at a nonprofit dental clinic in the Twin Cities, helping out with their school-based oral health programs. I felt that working in these public health intervention programs was very much a step in the right direction. It seemed like a career in public health would be a great fit for my interests and personal strengths so I applied to the UMN School of Public Health and was accepted!
How has COVID-19 impacted your life?
[KATHARINE] I’m extremely lucky to be able to say that COVID-19 has not impacted my life in major ways so far. I can still go to work at the Minnesota Department of Health and attend class (most of which were online anyways). My partner and I tend to be homebodies regardless of any stay-at-home orders. We’ve been spending a lot of time hanging out with our cat — observing her funny cat quirks, teaching her tricks, trying to get her accustomed to having her teeth brushed. I do miss normal social activities though, like meeting up with friends, going to the rock gym, and dinner parties.
How are you coping with COVID-19?
[KATHARINE] It’s great to be up-to-date on the pandemic by listening to, watching, or reading the news, but sometimes for me it is just too much. As I think a lot of us are doing, I’ve been trying to use this time as an excuse to contact friends and family, even those I haven’t talked with in a while. I’ve discovered the joy of remote pictionary with my parents and the (future) in-laws and crossword-puzzle-solving with beloved old high school friends. There’ve been chaotic Google Duo birthday greetings with the cousins, and free-for-all group texts with aunts, uncles, cousins, and all of their families. Also, getting assignments done feels productive, which is a better feeling than hopelessness. Finally, and this sounds cheesy, but I’m working on being gentle and kind with myself and others.
In what ways are you working on or responding to the COVID-19 outbreak?
[KATHARINE] I’ve been helping out the Minnesota Department of Health as a student worker doing contact tracing. Basically, we call up all high-risk contacts of COVID-19 cases and let them know they had to self-quarantine for 14 days since their last exposure to a known case. I’m currently working on case investigations. This involves calling every known COVID-19 case in Minnesota to get information about their COVID-19 symptoms, any underlying medical conditions, and close contacts they’ve had while infectious.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
[KATHARINE] As part of the interviews, we’re sharing information and resources with cases and their household and answering lots of questions. It’s a very stressful time for many families, so it’s rewarding when the interviews seem to help people work through some of the concerns they have about their situation. I hear so many stories of how families are coping with the illness, and the themes that stand out to me are resilience and caring for loved ones. It can be exhausting to do interviews all day, but helping the people on the other side of the line keeps me going.
What is the first thing you plan to do once this is over and things are ‘back to normal’?
[KATHARINE] I have a perfect afternoon planned out. First, go climbing at the rock gym with friends, then we go to a brewery and play board games over beers. Very Minnesotan, I know.