KC epidemiologist frustrated that some people doubt coronavirus as a threat

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Posted at 7:22 PM, Mar 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-24 20:22:01-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Epidemiologists track how and where people became infected with COVID-19, how the disease is affecting people and how it's spreading in the community.

Lisa Hubbert has been an epidemiologist with the Kansas City Missouri Health Department more than 20 years. Tracking the coronavirus is a task with long hours of making calls, collecting data and analyzing results. But the 10 and 12-hour work days are not her biggest frustration.

"It is frustrating to see and talk with individuals who are not taking [the coronavirus] seriously,” she said, “and who are doubting it and saying, ‘Oh, it's not going to affect me,’ and calling it a big farce. It's not a farce. It's here and our cases are increasing everyday, actually every hour now.”

Hubbert has called managers to inform them that an employee tested positive for coronavirus and that the employee won’t return to work for at least 14 days.

"Some managers have told me that's not going to happen, that's not their policy, their employees have to return to work,” Hubbert said. “Finally, after I explain the implications of a coronavirus-positive patient returning to work, infecting other employees and customers; those managers come to their senses and realize they can't put other people in danger.”

So far, more than 250 people in Missouri have tested positive for the coronavirus.

"We have not seen the worst of this yet," Hubbert said. "How long it will last is anyone's guess, but chances are it will go on for a couple more months at least.”

Right now, Hubbert and her staff of five are making calls and collecting data. She and her team write up the information and enter it into a state database. One call can often take 40 minutes, and when she is confronted by people who doubt the gravity of the coronavirus, it requires more of her time to explain.

"I just want people to believe us when we say this is not a conspiracy,” Hubbert said. “We're not the big bad health department. [Coronavirus] really is a serious infection that can affect a lot of people, and the best thing is to stay at home, wash your hands and to take it seriously.”

The veteran epidemiologist said the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department is working to hire more people to help. Hubbert also is optimistic that the department will receive some of the new federal coronavirus funding.

Dr. Rex Archer, Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department director, has praised his "disease detectives" for their faithfulness, compassion, commitment and personal sacrifice to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"It's not just us," Hubbert said. "There are great people in all the health departments in Kansas and Missouri; and we're all working hard and collaborating and we are making progress against this new infectious disease.”

Johnson County, KS
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