When the Pandemic is Your Job
Town of Essex Health Director Lisa Fasulo is helping ensure the COVID-19 vaccine rollout goes smoothly. (File photo by David Fasulo )
After more than nine months, Lisa Fasulo, the health director of Essex, took a day off, sort of. The day before Christmas, she didn’t go into the office, but she worked at home, doing pandemic contact tracing.
When asked for one word to describe what her life has been like in the COVID era, her first reaction wasn’t even a word. She just groaned and then asked, “One word? Just one word, wow.” But then she couldn’t stop. “It’s been crazy.”
Things are not going to get any easier anytime soon. Last week, when Fasulo talked with the Courier, Essex, part of the eight-town Connecticut River Health District, was waiting to hear when the district could begin administering COVID-19 vaccinations to Connecticut residents in group 1-b, which includes those over 75. The district comprises Essex, Chester, Deep River, Killingworth, Westbrook, Clinton, Haddam, and Old Saybrook. The vaccination site, according to Fasulo, will be in Old Saybrook.
“We are ready as soon as we get the word from Governor Lamont,” she said.
Vaccination availability, Fasulo said, is ultimately dependent on the number of vaccine doses allotted to the state,
If residents are in one of the covered groups, they first must register at portal.ct.gov/coronavirus/COVID-19-vaccination—-75-and-older. It is also possible to make appointments over the telephone at 877-918-2224 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (See “Registration Starts for Phase 1b of State’s COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout” on page 1.)
Fasulo said the health department was prepared for the pandemic as a result of the planning it had done for H1N1, better known as swine flu, in 2009.
Still, there was room for the unexpected. Contact tracing proved more difficult than anticipated when some people who had contracted the disease were wary of giving information.
“People didn’t want to say they had COVID and there was resistance to contact tracing,” she said.
In some cases, there were language barriers.
“We want to help; we will leave a thermometer at the door if people need one; we will leave masks,” she said.
Fasulo said she could understand why some people were initially upset by masks.
“There was resistance, but I know that behavior change is difficult,” she said. “I thought it would die down, but we were still getting pushback in August. Some people said the government shouldn’t tell them what to do.”
Fasulo said she tried to redirect conversations, asking people if there was a middle ground for their discussion.
“I try to explain it is about public health, not about politics,” she said.
Now Fasulo pointed out, the situation is even more critical given the new and more easily transmissible mutation of the virus, first identified in the United Kingdom, that is beginning to circulate in this country. In addition, there is the season. Winter means people are indoors where the virus spreads far more rapidly. And finally there is mental fatigue. After nearly a year of precautions, people are tired of complying with virus restrictions.
In addition to all her COVID-19 responsibilities, Fasulo said the everyday work of the health department goes on. Their responsibilities include inspecting restaurant kitchens for food safety as well as inspecting installation and repair of septic systems. Restaurants, she noted, are operating at reduced capacity if they are open at all, though takeout service continues. Septic systems, however, may be getting more use with people working and schooling from home. In a town like Essex, Fasulo emphasized, with individual wells, maintaining the safety and proper operation of septic systems is basic to clean water.
She credits Essex Health Department Registered Sanitarian Don Mitchell for his work keeping the Health Department up to date.
The phrase “we are all in this together” has become a pandemic cliché, but for Fasulo it is still as relevant as it ever was. Checking on neighbors, particularly those that live alone, remains important.
“At the end of the day, it is all of our job to look after each other,” she said.
Fasulo said her current work only confirmed for her the reasons she went into the field.
“Public health is more than emergencies. It is always all about prevention,” she said. “I chose public health because you can reach people about prevention.”