Working at PHAC to keep COVID Under Control

January 3rd 2020, marked my return to work after the winter holidays. Up until this point, I had been working for five months as an epidemiologist at the Public Health Agency of Canada, within the Influenza and Emerging Respiratory Infectious Surveillance team. I had been responsible for monitoring emerging respiratory pathogens along with my work colleague and supervisor; a small team of three. 


On December 31st, we received a notification of an atypical pneumonia outbreak in China. We sent out our usual notification to the President's office and followed our typical standard operating procedures. Fast forward to the middle of January, our small team of three morphs into the Health Portfolio Operations Centre (HPOC). 


My role consisted of daily monitoring and assessment of the ongoing cases internationally and creating daily briefs that were sent to management. The team and I spent long winter days and nights formulating the case definitions and surveillance guidance documents, performing risk assessments, scanning media sources, and creating a solid infrastructure in preparation for the first Canadian case of COVID-19. As the international situation evolved, so did the way we performed surveillance. My days consisted of creating a surveillance system to monitor international cases, identify spikes, highlight countries most at risk for travel, and supplement evidence to inform travel health advisories, all while producing daily epidemiology reports. 


Our team of three has now grown to a team of 20. The team monitors both the domestic and international situation, liaises with provinces and territories in submitting their case report forms, monitors outbreaks, updates our public-facing products, provides daily ad hoc requests on the Canadian COVID-19 landscape, optimizes our data collection processes along with improving our database systems, produces daily and weekly epidemiology reports, and briefs Dr. Theresa Tam. 


Our team remains committed, creative and adaptable in monitoring COVID-19 as we enter the influenza season. The team I joined in September 2019 continues to evolve based on this novel and challenging virus; a virus that has dramatically impacted the global public health landscape.