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Back for good: how the COVID-19 pandemic brought one graduate back to public health

Back for good: how the COVID-19 pandemic brought one graduate back to public health

June 5, 2020 at 8:26am

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, FIU alumna Lillie Garvin ’18 responded to the State of Florida’s call for epidemiologists, and it has changed her life.

“This virus is like nothing we have ever seen before and the unknown can be scary—especially when we see the unfortunate end result in some cases,” Garvin said. “Being part of the emergency response team for COVID-19 has given me the privilege to fight against the virus and work around the clock to protect our community.”

Garvin—who graduated from the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work with a master's in public health and a concentration in epidemiology—had been on a break. She had taken the accelerated program as a fast track to medical school but took a hiatus from the field after graduation. 

When the outbreak began, Garvin was working for her local church when the email from Stempel College came saying the state was looking to fill more than a hundred positions to quickly get a handle on the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

“At first, I thought it was a volunteer position, and that it would be a good opportunity to get back into the field of public health and serve my community,” Garvin said.

To her surprise, she was hired as a COVID-19 epidemiologist. Based in Doral, Garvin tracks positive COVID-19 cases to determine where the patient contracted the virus and who they may have been in contact with after becoming contagious.

“I get to speak directly to the patients who have been exposed. We need to understand how and when it happened. Hearing their stories, their concerns and fears, the gravity of their symptoms – this is the most direct contact you can have with a person in public health during a pandemic," she said. "We get to bring understanding to them on how to get through this but also a sense of hope and peace.”

Garvin handles more than a dozen cases a day, helping patients navigate a virus that has swept the world by storm but also swept individuals and families off their feet.

“I’ve had cases where individuals haven’t left their homes for weeks and still recently contracted the virus and I’ve spoken to a family where everyone in the home tested positive except one person. We have a lot to learn about this but for now we just need to find a way to get past it,” she said.

For Garvin, getting past the COVID-19 pandemic also will mean figuring out what to do next.

“The pandemic has reminded me to choose faith over fear of the unknown and the importance of remaining hopeful so that we, as a local and global community, can defeat this pandemic,” she said.

Garvin added: “One of the things I love the most about this is receiving a case of an elder who was infected and being able to follow them through to recovery. It has instilled in me a desire to work in emergency medicine. Hopefully we will never see another pandemic like this but, whatever happens, I know that I want to stay on the front lines and help people.”