COOPERSTOWN – In the past 20 years, as reports of H1N1, SARS, MARS and other viruses would surface on the news, most of us never gave them a second thought.
Not so Heidi Bond, Otsego County’s public health director, and her half-dozen staff members in The Meadows Office Complex in the Town of Middlefield.
“Since 2001 – after 911, the bombing of the World Trade Center – the state Health Department prepared for all types of diseases, and pandemics were one of them,” said Bond, who had joined the county department in 2000 as a public health nurse.
“After 2011,” said Bond, who was promoted to public health director in 2008, “we were mandated to prepare for emergencies. We did a lot of training, drills exercises.”
Among outcomes: The Health Department staff, supplemented by volunteers and nursing students, can vaccinate the whole county population – all 59,493 of us – in three to five days.
Regrettably, there’s no COVID-19 vaccine yet.
Meanwhile, Bond’s staff is the point of contact with people who test positive, making sure they stick to their quarantine, have food and medicine, can contact their doctors at Bassett, Fox or UHS, even arranging paid leave if they have to stay off the job.
That professional staff is 10 people: Assistant Director Kim Schlosser, an emergency preparedness coordinator, five nurses and three support staff.
Bond has also been thrust into the public eye: It’s she who compiles the daily report of positive cases, hospitalizations and discharges, and – in two instances in Otsego County – deaths.
“I’ve worked in public health for the past 20 years, H1N1, SARS, MERS,” Bond said. “This is definitely the biggest, most all-encompassing work we’ve ever done.”
It began in January with a “commissioner’s call,” where state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker briefed Bond and the state’s other county health directors on the challenges ahead, but “mostly focusing on people coming back from China and how to monitor them.”
The momentum began to pick up in February, with the infestations in Washington State; the first New York case also surfaced. “We knew it was coming, and we were trying to be prepared,” she said.
Since the first week in March, “we’ve been working seven days a week – it hasn’t slowed down.”
Born and raised in Richfield Springs, “my mom” – Cindy Brophy, now of Scarborough, Maine – “was a nurse. It was something I really wanted to do.”
As a teenager, she was already pursuing her vocation, volunteering at Bassett Hospital and working as a nurse’s aide while still in high school. Her dad, Greg Goodale, now lives in Mohawk.
“I just enjoy helping people,” she said.
Graduating from Richfield Springs Central School, she went to Utica College’s nursing school, then joined Bassett in the pediatric inpatient unit, moving to the county five years later as a public health nurse.
She and her husband, Stephen, have two daughters. The eldest, Katelynn Worobey, is married and in graduate school. The younger, Emily Bond, is in her first year at SUNY Poly.
“What’s most different,” she said of the coronavirus threat, “is having to put people in quarantine and isolation, and having to monitor them through that. That’s something that wasn’t in our wheelhouse.”
At first, Bond’s staff was making home visits, “but it just became overwhelming,” so they shifted to a daily phone call; if someone’s “not compliant, we could make in-person visits. But there have been very, very few. Most people are very responsible.”
Food banks drop off meals, if people in isolation have no one to do it for them. Otherwise, “we try to encourage a neighbor or family member to drop off thermometers, food, medication.”
When a test comes back positive, “many times we find there are other people who are showing signs. Then we try to coordinate to get them tested, and put them in quarantine, too.”
In some cases, one person has had as many as 40 contacts.
Through her professional training and experience, Bond is confident sheltering, social distancing and other measures will bring the crisis to an end.
“As long as people continue to do what they’ve been doing,” she said, “hopefully we’ll get this over sooner rather than later – and get back to a new normal, I guess.”