Category: Georgetown Magazine, Spring 2021

Title:An empathetic and strategic COVID-19 response

Author: Kate Colwell (G’20)
Date Published: May 27, 2021
Dr. Ranit Mishori (center), medical director at the COVID-19 high-capacity vaccination site at D.C.’s Entertainment and Sports Arena, observes as Leon Padil- lia, nurse for MedStar Georgetown Student Health Center, instructs a medical student on how to prepare a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Ranit Mishori (center), medical director at the COVID-19 high-capacity vaccination site at D.C.’s Entertainment and Sports Arena, observes as Leon Padillia, nurse for MedStar Georgetown Student Health Center, instructs a medical student on how to prepare a dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Q&A with Dr. Ranit Mishori (M’02, Parent’22) on the myriad ways in which the Georgetown Public Health Operations Unit serves as a hub for coordinating pandemic resources

Dr. Mishori is a professor of family medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine and the chief public health officer for Georgetown University.

What is the Georgetown Public Health Operations Unit?

It’s like a small health department that we created in two weeks at the beginning of August 2020. We refined all of our protocols and processes during the fall semester in preparation for bringing more people in for the spring. I run the unit with my co-director, Mark Barbieri, the emergency response manager at Georgetown. Michala Koch is my deputy, and she helps operationalize all of our protocols. Christopher Connell is a supervisory Care Navigator for our Care Navigators. Our epidemiologist is John Kraemer, who’s on faculty at Georgetown. Natalie Michalak lends administrative support.

How does your unit function on a day-to-day basis?

We work very closely with Mark Fournier, who has taken on the immense role of coordinating all of the testing operations for the university. People who work or live on campus have to get tested twice a week; those who work less frequently need to get tested once a week. If somebody on Main, Law, or Medical campus tests positive or attests to symptoms via the mobile app, we launch our Care Navigators to investigate each case, and initiate isolation or quarantine protocols to comply with D.C. Department of Health public health guidelines. We turn to the Facilities team for help putting people in isolation at the hotel, getting food and other wraparound services to people in isolation and quarantine, and coordinating cleanup and disinfection of entire facilities, offices, or labs when someone who has been there tests positive.

“Care Navigators ask students questions like, ‘Do you need mental health support?’ ‘Do you need academic support?’ ‘Can we connect you to Student Health?’ We have protocols, but we also work with each student individually.”

How do you work with the D.C. Department of Health?

We work closely with the D.C. Department of Health on a number of issues, including our overall protocols (testing, quarantine, isolation, sports). We collaborate on outbreak investigations and contact tracing when members of our community test positive for COVID-19.

We have also been working closely with them on vaccine distribution in some of the District’s hardest-hit communities, where university staff and students helped administer more than 1,500 vaccines to D.C. residents.

What long-term implications of the pandemic do you think will persist after the current health crisis passes?

I think the impact of the pandemic is profound in terms of people’s mental health, and that’s not going to go away so quickly, even when the pandemic becomes more of a daily nuisance, as opposed to a global crisis. I think it’s going to take time to remember how to connect with people in person. People have been basically keeping to themselves for more than a year now. How do you resume friendships and your communication skills? A lot of people have lost family members and friends. There’s a lot of grief that is percolating, but it’s going to come to the surface. It’s changed our lives in profound ways.

You are also a Georgetown parent; how does that affect your work?

Having a child who is a Georgetown student has helped me understand the difficulties and the challenges that students are facing, particularly as far as remote learning. It takes a toll on socialization and mental health—not only on the students, but also on the faculty.

I’m grateful that I have this glimpse of the student experience through my daughter. I think it adds to my ability to empathize with students when they’re complaining, or when they’re desperate, or when they have certain issues with how we run things. I like to sometimes check things with her first, like, “What do you think? Would this be a good thing? Is this a good message for people of your age?” There’s nothing like having a middle-aged woman try to create messaging for people in their 20s. It’s been nice to check in with a member of that generation from time to time.

Holistic support on the Hilltop

Between 20 and 40 Care Navigators work around the clock to provide students with logistical and emotional support. Their duties include: contact tracing; helping positive cases move to isolation; helping exposed cases move to quarantine; helping students obtain food, laundry, and COVID-19 tests as well as access to health care, mental health, and academic resources.

“Through phone, text, and email, Care Navigators answer questions and provide 24/7 support through this stressful time,” says Dr. Ranit Mishori, Georgetown’s chief public health officer. “It’s not easy for anyone to be in their room for 10 days.”

To support the well-being of the entire community, Georgetown now offers free mental health resources in the form of two online programs: Hoya Well for students, and Mindset through One Medical for employees.

“People are worried and overwhelmed, so we made sure there would be a virtual tool that’s completely anonymous, completely accessible, and would allow our community—student or staff or faculty—to get help through this crisis,” says Geoff Chatas, Georgetown’s senior vice president and chief operating officer.

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