Georgia Southern University Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health

Statesboro, GA

For Dean Stuart Tedders of the Georgia Southern University Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, the moment of realization that COVID had emerged as dire was when communities around the world began shutting down. “For me this was monumental because I had never experienced a global reaction like this to any health problem.” 

Dean Tedders continues, “As public health practitioners, our first reaction was to lean on the pillars of public health: disease prevention and health promotion. We were proactive in messaging the importance of hygiene and other basic safety measures related to control of infectious disease. In many ways, this really brought us together as a community.” 

At Georgia Southern, they poured resources into both the organization and implementation of closed vaccination PODs to serve the institutional community. “We were at the forefront of creating a marketing campaign for the university to use to message hygiene and basic safety measures. Later, when we knew the vaccine would become available, our college team were leaders in the messaging aspects to combat vaccine hesitancy within the university population.” 

But there were challenges, says Tedders. “From an academic standpoint, our major challenge was to implement protocols to ensure continuity of education to our students. For online courses, this was not much of an issue, at least from the faculty perspective. However, courses designed and delivered in a face-to-face format were a bit of a challenge. Balancing this redesign in such a rapid fashion was daunting.” 

Assistant Professor Jessica Schwind, PhD, who has a passion for emergency preparedness, rose to the occasion as a leader in advising institutional leadership about how to design, implement and evaluate a closed POD at the university. “Her intellectual curiosity, attention to detail, boundless energy, commitment to making a difference and problem-solving skills were vital to the success of these PODs.” 

Tedders points to lessons learned: “From a personal and professional perspective, I had never considered mass fear as a significant barrier to effective public health practice. The sheer panic that was pervasive in a diverse community was overwhelming to me, and I’m still unsure how it should have, or could have, been mitigated. On a positive note, though, the COVID pandemic forced us to use the technology at our disposal to its fullest extent. Whether it is from a pedagogical perspective, participating in an institutional meeting or engaging with the community, it is clear we harnessed the power of technology to make a difference.” 

He concludes, “As public health practitioners, it is important we spend time reflecting on our experiences in the last two years. In many ways, I argue the public health community, while doing an outstanding job, was caught flat-footed. It is evident there needs to be more investment in public health infrastructure. Further, mistakes were made regardless of what side of the political aisle you align yourself with. If we do not pause and reflect on lessons learned, we are bound to repeat some of the same mistakes when this happens again.”

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