Epidemiologists are always the first on the scene to investigate when diseases or outbreaks occur. Six months ago, you may not have known what an epidemiologist’ exact job description is. For those fixed to the daily cycle of coronavirus updates, there is a pretty good chance you recognize a number of them by name.
In the wake of the world pandemic, public health experts have found their profession within the spotlight. Each day, they’re asked to contextualise and explain the intricacies of a pandemic we still know little about, to an uncertain public desperate for answers.
So how have these epidemiologists’ lives have changed? And did they see the writing on the wall?
I’ve done plenty of the cliches’
Hassan Vally is one of the leading epidemiologists at La Trobe University in Victoria. Dr. Vally was working in his “normal academic role” until about six weeks ago when he was asked to maximize and assist with the Government’s response to outbreaks within the aged care sector.
“I’ve had to travel into an office quite what I had to try and do before,” he laughs.
Like the general public, Dr. Vally’s routine has been uprooted. He wears a mask, avoids conveyance, plans his trips to the shops more strategically, and with gyms still closed, has been forced to be creative in staying fit and healthy inside his home.
“I’ve done lots of the cliches — I’ve got my bike working again,” he says.
But one of the most important challenges that epidemiologists, and even the general public, have to face is the toll of the coronavirus restrictions.
Dr. Vally lives alone and says the impact on those like him “wasn’t really considered”.
“In terms of how limited their interaction with people is,” he says. “That’s definitely something I’ve noticed.”
For the epidemiologist, it is the simple things he misses most. Prior to the pandemic, Dr. Vally took Latin dancing lessons — a hobby that “right from the very beginning brings you into close contact with strangers”.
“I do not know how long it’ll be before people can do those simple things that are a part of being an individual’s,” he says.
‘It’s a crucial professional obligation’
Mary-Louise McLaws is an epidemiologist and member of the globe Health Organization Experts Advisory Panel on COVID-19. Like many public health experts, her workload has only grown under worldwide pandemic.
“I must have had some clairvoyance in January because I bought a rowing machine,” she laughs. “While I have been telling people gyms aren’t the safest places to be at the instant, I feel my gym within the corner of the area is feeling a touch neglected.”
Professor McLaws lives in Sydney, where the utilization of face masks isn’t mandatory but she makes some extent of wearing one in shopping centres, on transport, and in lifts.
“Even though they provide you the small spots to face on, it’s really shortly enough away with little or no airflow,” she says.
While you’re unlikely to seek out Professor McLaws Latin dancing anytime soon (“That’s more of a hobby for a communicable disease physician,” she quips), in light of her burgeoning workload, she’s found herself unable to attend “real sculpting” classes.
“It’s hit and miss workload similarly,” she says. “Mind you, I feel the family is pleased with that because they do not must put up with any of my [sculpting] pieces.”
Like many, Professor McLaws is feeling the consequences of the pandemic. The times are long, she says, and maintaining contact with friends is difficult but she is smitten by her job and is ever tuned in to the requirement to get on the front-foot of misinformation.
“Previously I have not been superb at speech the press because I have been too busy with my other work,” she says. “But during COVID one feels obliged to assist the population to explain what they go through and why they’re doing it and to get rid of misinformation.
When asked about why epidemiologists are now in the spotlight, Professor MclAws says, “I feel that it’s a vital professional obligation.”
‘It wouldn’t are socially acceptable before’
Lidia Morawska is an internationally recognised air quality and health expert from the Queensland University of Technology.
She is additionally one among 239 scientists from 32 different countries who penned a letter urging the WHO to vary its advice around the transmission mechanism of the virus.
It should come as little surprise then, that she was on the front foot of mask-wearing and social distancing even before the pandemic.
“When the grandkids came visiting, I used to be catching colds from all the time,” she says.
“I very quickly learned a way to prevent this… there have been situations reception after I was sick and that I said, ‘Well, I’m wearing a mask’.”
In the workplace, Professor Morawska says, the protocols are even as stringent.
Before the myriad of public health advice, they were alert to ventilation.
“If somebody had a chilly or something like this, we’d place this person during a location… where they might be next to the air exhaust, not impacting people,” Professor Morawska says.
“It wouldn’t are socially acceptable before to inform a student, ‘I’m sorry, I won’t visit you because you’ve got chilly, come in three days. A lot of science around transmission mechanism of the virus ‘has been ignored'” she adds.
She hopes that the public will embrace these precautionary measures, even after case numbers decline.
“I’m in a very good situation in this I’m the boss,” she says. “But there are many folks who are telling their bosses, this could be done, but the bosses don’t listen”.
‘If we’re not doing those things, it’s really hard to convince people to’
Paul Griffin is an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at the University of Queensland. As one of these involved in trying to manage the response to coronavirus, epidemiologists like Dr. Griffin are very much aware of the importance of staying proactive to COVID-19 safety measures.
“All the items we’ve been telling everyone to try to, I have been doing myself,” he says. “If we’re not doing all those things, it’s really hard to convince others to.”
That means paying close attention to personal hygiene and social distancing. Sharing of food should also be removed. And while he personally didn’t wear a mask until it became mandatory at work, he says the employment of face masks within the community “has a time and a place”.
“But given our local epidemiology and also the undeniable fact that I adhere to social distancing and hygiene, I do not wear a mask routinely within the community, but certainly at work,” he says.
For Dr. Griffin, travel restrictions have proven one of the most important challenges but he believes it is a small price to pay if it means containing the virus.
“I wont to travel lots to observe sport, I like travelling to determine the Brisbane Lions play in other states which were an enormous part of my winter months each year,” he says. “But we’ve got to stay in mind in our country and our state how good our response has been and the way excellent the control is so our inability to travel may be a small price to pay.”
A version of this article was originally published on https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-09-13/epidemiologists-asked-to-explain-coronavirus-how-are-they-coping/12654974 by Bridget Judd