Lauri Hicks, DO, has been working for the CDC for nearly 15 years. Although she’s currently the director of the CDC’s Office of Antibiotic Stewardship, right now she is deployed to the agency’s novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) response effort. Previously, Dr. Hicks assisted in responses to Ebola, H1N1 and other respiratory outbreaks. None of these have compared to the intensity of working on the COVID-19 response, she says.
“The scope of this outbreak and the impact on our country is unprecedented,” she says.
In this edited Q&A, Dr. Hicks shares more details about working on the CDC’s COVID-19 response.
What roles have you held at the CDC over the years?
I started out as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer (CDC disease detective) in the respiratory diseases branch in the division of bacterial diseases. I worked on respiratory diseases for 10 years before moving to my current position, which is director of the Office of Antibiotic Stewardship.
When did you become involved with COVID-19 response?
I started a deployment at the very beginning of March and have been working on the COVID-19 response each and every single day since.
What has been your role?
I am leading the deployment assessment and monitoring team, a team of approximately 45 CDC and contractor staff who are responsible for tracking illness and promoting the safety of our response workforce.
We have launched a monitoring system that allows all CDC response staff to report directly to my team if they develop symptoms consistent with COVID-19. I facilitate COVID-19 testing and access to medical care for staff. I am also providing support to the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies to do the same.
How does that differ from your usual work at the CDC?
My usual work at CDC has more of a scientific and research focus and is about improving antibiotic use to enhance health care quality and protect the general public from adverse events and antibiotic resistance.
My usual role is external-facing and involves a campaign, media, policy, partnerships, and research. The work I am doing now is much more focused on providing a service to CDC and the federal government. My focus has shifted from protecting the safety of the general public to protecting the safety of the federal workforce so that the response can be sustained.
Have you been working outside the headquarters? If so, where?
I have been working in Atlanta at headquarters. Given that the agency has moved to a full telework policy, even when I am collaborating with other federal partners in Washington, DC, I am often doing that work from home.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you personally?
My family recently lost a loved one due to COVID-19. For the first time in my career, my work on a response feels quite personal. This has only strengthened my resolve to make sure that our employees stay safe and can continue to work around the clock to protect the health of the public and ensure the safety of the people I love.