Veterinary public health and the COVID-19 response

The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact has swept across Minnesota’s public health sector, and groups across the state have joined forces to mitigate its effects. Veterinary public health and preventive medicine (VPHPM) residents at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s (CVM) Center for Animal Health and Food Safety have worked across sectors at the University, collaborating with faculty and researchers on initiatives in human and veterinary medicine, worker safety, monitoring and evaluation, and infection control. Their varied projects and response measures contribute to a safer, more well-prepared Minnesota. 

U-CAN volunteer management: Lauren Bernstein

VPHPM resident Lauren Bernstein, DVM, ’19 MPH, has supported the University COVID Action Network (U-CAN), a coalition of 500 volunteer faculty, staff, and students organizing COVID-19 response and action. She is also managing volunteers, creating communications, developing project management plans, and connecting requests for services with resources or volunteers. 

Meanwhile, Bernstein has honed new skills in data analysis and monitoring and evaluation, with support from existing expertise within U-CAN’s network. 

“U-CAN is an effective ‘switchboard’ which builds strategic partnerships and communication for internal and external university stakeholders,” says Bernstein. “It's been exciting to learn about the breadth of volunteer expertise and their dedication to the university community in supporting front line efforts.” 

Worker safety in the era of COVID-19: Gus Brihn

As COVID-19 has changed the way in-person work is able to be safely performed, VPHPM resident Gus Brihn, DVM, ’19 MPH, has been working with The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) to develop safety guidance for agricultural workers. UMASH routinely supports worker safety on farms guided by One Health principles. Through collaborations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this work impacts agricultural workers in Minnesota and across the United States.  

Other groups who have been supported by UMASH’s work are midwestern dairy farms. Brihn’s ongoing work with the center has investigated the resiliency of dairy farms to COVID-19, to understand if prior training around occupational health and safety has provided security for those workers in relation to the disease. With workers across the United States returning to their jobs as the economy opens post-coronavirus shutdowns, understanding what types of training helps keep workers safe will be essential. 

Zoonotic disease courses for medical students: James Kincheloe

In an example of cross-disciplinary collaboration, VPHPM resident James Kincheloe, DVM, ’20 MPH, contributed educational materials on the importance of zoonotic diseases in an online course for medical residents. Zoonotic diseases—those which spread between humans and animals—make up an estimated 60 percent of known diseases in the world, according to the CDC. The case of COVID-19 provides an opportunity to increase front-line medical professionals’ awareness of zoonotic diseases and how to prevent future zoonotic illness.

While online coursework has become the new reality for students and faculty across the University, the transition has been particularly complex for medical students and some residents at the University of Minnesota Medical School who would normally spend the spring working in clinics or completing rotations. Kincheloe’s contributions to the online course on zoonotic disease and pandemic response helped the University continue to provide training to medical residents no longer able to work in clinics because of shutdowns. 

VPHPM Residents and coordinators smiling at the camera
VPHPM residents and program coordinators. From left to right: Jan Mladonicky, Michael Mahero, Addis Hunde Bedada, Karin Hamilton, Sarah Summerbell, Jim Kincheloe, Lauren Bernstein, Gus Brihn.

Infection prevention and control: Addis Hunde Bedada

The University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center (VMC) has rapidly updated procedures and protocols for working with patients in a COVID-19 era. Along with colleagues, VPHPM resident Addis Hunde Bedada, DVM, MS, has been supporting one aspect of these protocols by working with the new infection control team at the VMC. “We are working on different protocols that enable the hospital staff and clients to perform their duties safely,” explains Bedada. 

Infection prevention and control is always vital in the VMC, and VPHPM residents regularly manage infection control rotations as part of their normal residency duties. But carefully updated guidelines have been needed as more is discovered and understood about COVID-19 and how it spreads. VPHPM residents’ support of clear, up-to-date protocols helps to ensure that VMC clients—animals and humans alike—continue to receive supportive and safe care.

Infection control protocols: Jan Mladonicky

Infection prevention and control is a team effort. Along with other VPHPM residency colleagues, Jan Mladonicky, DVM, MPH, has been supporting the VMC infection control team to create, update, and maintain protocols that promote occupational safety and infection control, while sustaining continued patient care during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Managing clear infection control protocols during a pandemic is complex, though. Sometimes, shortly after a protocol is completed, it becomes outdated and needs to be redone. However, the opportunity to support on-the-ground efforts to keep people and animals safe has been a rewarding challenge for Mladonicky and her colleagues. “What a time to be a veterinary public health resident!” she says. “It has been an honor helping support veterinary staff during this time as they provide essential services to animals in our community.”


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CAHFS News is a compilation of current topics and news updates in animal health, food safety, and veterinary public health.