It’s exhausting sufficient to battle COVID-19 when it’s spreading all through a group.
It’s extra sophisticated when it reaches into an establishment like a jail, the place measures like social distancing are more durable to institute. And when an outbreak is occurring in one of many largest jails within the nation, issues might be trickier nonetheless.
That’s the place Lieutenant Commander Paige Armstrong, an officer within the US Public Well being Service, discovered herself in mid-April, serving to the Chicago Division of Public Well being comprise an outbreak of COVID-19 within the Cook dinner County jail. A doctor, medical epidemiologist, and veteran of CDC’s response to the 2015-2016 Zika virus outbreak, Paige led the CDC workforce to assist jail directors and medical employees get COVID-19 beneath management.
“The jail campus covers eight metropolis blocks and homes individuals in 13 completely different buildings, and every constructing has distinctive traits,” she says. “It’s as if you’re attempting to manage an outbreak in 13 completely different settings, with the added ingredient of employees transferring between them.”
At the moment, the jail held greater than 4,000 individuals awaiting courtroom dates, trial, or serving post-conviction sentences. And Chicago was one of many pandemic’s early US sizzling spots, so the illness was spreading extensively outdoors the partitions.
The Cook dinner County Sheriff’s Workplace had taken steps to battle the outbreak inside by conducting intensive testing, decreasing cells to single occupancy, and quarantining the complete unit when an individual who was incarcerated examined constructive. The CDC workforce began by attempting to determine whether or not prevention and management measures had been working and what else may be wanted. They labored with metropolis, county, and state well being departments, the sheriff’s workplace, and the corporate that offered medical providers on the jail. They tracked building-by-building knowledge on instances, hospitalizations, and deaths amongst employees and folks in custody, on the lookout for traits and rising clusters of sickness.
“We discovered that the interventions had been successfully decreasing new instances, however that didn’t imply the work was finished,” Paige says. “It meant these resource-intensive efforts to quarantine, isolate, display, socially distance, and improve cleansing and disinfection of often touched surfaces wanted to proceed. And when you think about the dimensions of the jail, you understand that requires a variety of coordination and energy from everybody.”
In Chicago, these measures regularly began to bear fruit. Every day, the variety of models positioned on quarantine declined, till in the future there have been none.
“Everybody breathed a sigh of reduction,” she says. “We had turned a nook.”
Chicago was Paige’s second deployment for the COVID-19 response. She additionally helped repatriate cruise ship passengers after they had been quarantined at an airbase outdoors Atlanta. When she’s not deployed for emergency responses, Paige focuses on stopping tickborne rickettsial ailments.
She traces her curiosity in public well being again to highschool in New Haven, Connecticut. A summer season journey visiting kinfolk in Ecuador made her need “to work alongside communities and to present again,” she says.
“I grew up in a household that valued group service,” she says. Her mom is a instructor, her father an EMT and volunteer firefighter. At 14, she volunteered with an help group that constructed latrines and put in cooking stoves that diverted smoke outdoors of properties in Mexico—the primary of many journeys the place she labored on sanitation and well being tasks in Latin America.
As a scholar at Johns Hopkins College, she volunteered as a Spanish interpreter in free clinics in Baltimore. She returned to Connecticut for medical college and specialised in emergency drugs at George Washington College in Washington, DC.
“I’ve at all times loved working with populations who’ve barely increased wants or challenges accessing healthcare,” she says. “It’s been rewarding within the sense that I can recognize the impression and make a distinction.”
That led her to CDC, after a mentor really helpful she apply for the Epidemic Intelligence Service – the “illness detectives” who pursue outbreaks of sickness. After her two-year fellowship with EIS, she joined the company full-time in 2017.
“Nobody factor and nobody individual does all of it,” she says. “However collectively, we are able to make a distinction.”