Rebecca Walker is an EH officer at Metro North Public Health Unit in Brisbane, Australia. She was on secondment to the Queensland Communicable Diseases Branch when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. She spoke to EHN Extra:
"The month prior to COVID-19 being declared a public health emergency in Queensland I had commenced a new role in the Communicable Diseases Branch. My role was to oversee the legislation and policy for infection control for personal appearances and mosquito management in Queensland. Just before Christmas there was talk in the office about cases of pneumonia of unknown cause, detected in Wuhan City in China. At the time I was just thinking about my Christmas break and had absolutely no idea of what 2020 would bring.
“Following my return to work more information was emerging about COVID-19 and before I knew it my team had stood up an incident management team (IMT). At the time there was only me and a few others in the IMT. However, the IMT quickly evolved and the State Health Emergency Coordination Centre was activated. Initially, days were long as my team and I grappled with the unknowns while planning for worst case scenarios.
“My role in the Queensland public health IMT is different every day. Some highlights for me have included writing policy to inform legislative amendments, facilitating contact tracing across borders and development of guidelines for public health units and other government and non-government stakeholders. I have enjoyed the fast-paced, ever-changing environment and have been very lucky to work alongside some outstanding clinicians including public health nurses, epidemiologists and public health physicians.
“So far, the Queensland community has successfully ‘flattened the curve’ and avoided scenarios seen in other countries. This has allowed the Queensland government to rapidly expand testing capacity and public health units to increase their capacity to respond to high numbers of cases. The hard work done by public health clinicians, including EH, has put Queensland in a good place to manage the next phase of easing restrictions. I am told by the epidemiologists in my team that this is the eye of the storm for Queensland, but I am optimistic and look forward to life getting back to normal.”
Read more about Rebecca and her colleagues in the July/August issue of EHN, due out at the beginning of July.