Perspectives from the front lines of a public health crisis
From an exam room in the McHenry County Health Department, Chloe Cavida (MPH ’17) finds a quiet space and a few minutes out of her busy day to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic. Hired as a health educator in 2019, Cavida’s days at the office have been anything but ordinary since the coronavirus first appeared in Illinois.
“My work is primarily working on the Illinois Tobacco-Free Communities grant, giving presentations to students, and coordinating with schools to implement policies and procedures,” explains Cavida.
Now, in response to the global health crisis, Cavida is mainly working with the health department’s epidemiology team, including fellow Loyola University Chicago alum Ryan Sachs (MPH ’17). “We are both very new to our careers, so we didn’t expect something like this to happen for a very long time!” Sachs says with a chuckle.
Every day, Sachs and Cavida work together to compile, analyze, and distribute data related to the coronavirus outbreak, which most days consists of taking state numbers and breaking them down to reflect what’s happening at the county and community level.
The pair has also been instrumental in developing processes to support community organizations and groups. “Right now, we are working with the assisted housing program to develop a way to monitor staff and contact trace. That’s all infrastructure that didn’t exist before this,” says Cavida.
Since the pandemic began, Sachs and Cavida have also seen a shift to predictive modeling to track COVID-19 cases. Predictive modeling is a process that forecasts outcomes and probabilities through the use of data mining. It’s an area in which Sachs first took an interest during the second year of his master’s degree studies. “If we are analyzing a food-borne outbreak, we would get data directly from the people affected: a small population we are able to identify,” explains Sachs. “With COVID, we can’t just analyze the data coming in, we have to predict what could be coming, so we can help decide what to do as a health department and how to advise our community.”
“We are both very new to our careers, so we didn’t expect something like this to happen for a very long time!” Sachs says with a chuckle.
While explaining the predictive modeling, Sachs admits his “nerdy side” is drawn to this kind of data analysis. “It’s very interesting to dust off the old knowledge we learned in our programs at Loyola,” says Sachs. “Having to apply the knowledge has been a challenge, but it’s rewarding to take our careers to levels we never expected.”
But it’s not just knowledge Cavida and Sachs are drawing upon from their Loyola days. “We both entered the field of public health because we wanted to make a difference,” says Sachs. “Loyola helped instill in us the passion to help where we can and do what we need to do.” Now more than ever the pair of alumni are seeing the impact of their work on McHenry County’s communities. “I think when all is said and done, we used our education to advance knowledge and make an impact on outcomes,” says Cavida. “Personally, it’s very rewarding to feel like you’re part of something bigger.”
While Cavida initially looked forward to getting out of the office and resuming her role as a health educator, she’s now excited to be taking on a new full-time role as the second epidemiologist at the health department. Still, she hopes to see more people interested in public health as a result of the pandemic. “It would be great if this situation inspired more people to look into public health as a career or consider supporting public health efforts.”