Students Serve on COVID-19 Response Team in Winthrop, MA
MPH students Kerra Washington, Mia Haddad, and Meredith Daly have led vaccination clinics and provided data and policy analysis for the public health department in the Massachusetts town.
Three Master of Public Health students have played a vital role in shaping the Town of Winthrop’s understanding of COVID-19 in the coastal Massachusetts community.
For their MPH practicum, Kerra Washington, Mia Haddad, and Meredith Daly joined the COVID-19 Response Team in the town’s Department of Public Health & Clinical Services (DPHCS) last June, diving into a range of COVID-related projects, including contact tracing, data analysis, policy implementation, and community outreach and education. What began as a 240-hour commitment turned into extended positions for all three students. Washington continued her practicum through December of last year, and Haddad and Daly still work part-time at DPHCS as the COVID-19 response program manager and public health program director, respectively.
Their practicum started at a time when Massachusetts, along with many other states, was beginning to reopen businesses after the widespread spring 2020 shutdown. Throughout the summer, the students conducted contract tracing and training, and analyzed trends in Winthrop’s COVID cases to inform the department’s communication strategies and town-wide reopening policies. Drawing from federal and state-level data and guidelines, they connected with local governing bodies, retail businesses, and restaurants to answer businesses’ inquiries on safety measures and procedural processes around reopening.
“Throughout the whole experience, I learned more than I could have in any other practicum,” says Daly, who is a full-time, second-year student studying health law, policy, and management. “There were a lot of questions from businesses when they started to reopen, so we analyzed state-level policies and guidelines around this effort, and put them into a digestible form to ensure that organizations were in compliance and felt comfortable about knowing what to do.” The students also developed a municipal medical countermeasures guidebook for influenza, and Daly and Haddad are currently creating COVID vaccine guidelines for seniors, homebound residents, and the town’s COVID vaccination clinics.
Daly continues to focus on contact tracing, as well as program management and community engagement, particularly around educating the community about the COVID vaccines and planning vaccination clinics. She also provides strategic planning for the Community and Law Enforcement Assisted Recovery Program (CLEAR), a Sussex County initiative that provides safe access to substance use treatment and recovery services.
“I see how our work can really have a reverberating effect on the residents, and make a direct impact on their lives,” she says.
As COVID cases began rising again last fall, the students also managed the town’s influenza response, says Washington. They planned, implemented, and directed multiple clinics, including a hybrid drive-though/in-person option, with all COVID safety measures in place.
“We relayed to people the validity of getting a flu shot in combination with other safety measures, such as social distancing and mask wearing,” she says. Washington has since transitioned to a new role at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health as a COVID-19 contract epidemiologist, cleaning and importing COVID data into the project management tool MAVEN, and also serving as a site investigator for the Occupational Health Surveillance Program. At SPH, she studies epidemiology and biostatistics, as well as health policy and law, and is a member of the BU Epidemiology COVID Response Corps’ health equity team.
“It has been a rewarding experience as a public health student to have worked at the local and state level during a global pandemic,” Washington says. “My experience at Winthrop and DPH has allowed me to see public health in action during a unique time.in history.”
Washington, Haddad, and Daly also developed social media campaigns to keep the public informed on all aspects of COVID-19, from social distancing guidelines and safe holiday celebration activities, to COVID guidebooks for children. The department’s Instagram follower count grew from about 30 people last summer, to more than 850 currently, says Haddad, who also creates materials for the DPHCS Facebook page.
“Our posts have seen a lot of positive responses, and one of my favorite components is being able to communicate with the community and talk about COVID safety measures in a health-oriented way,” says Haddad, who also has a minor degree in professional writing for science communication and is completing the epidemiology and biostatistics and global health program design, monitoring, and evaluation certificates at SPH.
“I learn something new every single day in Winthrop, but I have also been able to apply knowledge from every class I’ve taken at SPH,” says Haddad, adding that the skills she gained in her program design and infectious disease epidemiology courses were especially helpful in planning the vaccination clinics. “It’s really exciting to go to class on a Monday and be able to directly apply what I’m learning at work on Tuesday.”