PROGRESS 2021: Protecting through a pandemic; Health department leads local COVID-19 response

Protecting the health and safety of the county – that’s what Diane Miller, Lincoln County Health Department Director, said her goal has always been and is now, more than ever, after the novel coronavirus has spread throughout communities across the world.

Miller and her team at the Lincoln County Health Department have spent countless hours this year learning, training and responding to COVID-19.

A typical day for Miller this year included contacting those who have tested positive for COVID-19 – a total that has risen steadily since March – and giving them quarantine guidelines, keeping the public educated on new information, and much more.

“That’s not only to protect themselves, but also their family members,” Miller said. “I also strongly encourage them to contact those that have been in close nature with them two days before the onset of their symptoms.”

Miller has also continued to educate the public and make the public aware of new information and guidelines.

In addition to contacting positive cases and raising awareness, the LCHD has also been responding to complaints against establishments not adhering to the guidelines suggested by medical experts.

It has been a learning year for everyone, Miller said, as the information on COVID-19 has constantly changed from the beginning.

“Which means keeping abreast of the different updates and protocols that come down from the Department of Public Health in this COVID outbreak event,” she said.

“The big thing has been making sure the guidelines are followed because it does change quite often.”

Getting the public to follow the guidelines handed down from the national and state medical officials has proven to be quite a task, Miller said.

“The most challenging part has been to get the public to come on board and do what we need to do in order to keep everyone safe,” she said.

The amount of work that COVID-19 has created for the Health Department has been another big challenge, Miller said.

Contract tracers were hired to help contact individuals who may have come into contact with COVID-19, but as the numbers continue to increase Miller said it has been difficult.

“The next challenging part, as the numbers escalate, it is very difficult for us to contact people, in what I feel is a timely manner,” Miller said.

Now that so much is known about the virus and vaccines are on their way to communities across the nation, Miller and her team are switching gears to help administer them.

“Now we are preparing and planning to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Miller said in late December. “Our first concentration of priority, of course, is going to be the medical providers, public health, and EMS. As far as our long-term care facility is concerned the state has contracted with CVS and Walmart to vaccinate that population.”

Miller said she never expected to see a pandemic like this in her lifetime.

“You know, when you look back on the H1N1, that vaccine was developed rather quickly…however, with COVID-19 it’s a whole, new different strain and it’s affecting individuals in a way that the H1N1 didn’t. So you can see the difference between the two viruses.”

She’s learned a lot this year, Miller said.

“What I’ve learned is be prepared for the unexpected at all times,” she said, “because you never know how something is going to turn that maybe started out looking small but then it blows into something really big.”

The LCHD team has been working hard to contact everyone who COVID-19 could or has affected locally, Miller said.

“We put in long hours but we’re going to do what we need to do because that’s what Public Health is all about,” she said.