Eric Zgodzinski’s team was about to play a big series, but most of his team was on the disabled list.
Only for public health personnel, the big games were played in late March, as counties across the country grappled with preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zgodzinski, the Toledo-Lucas County, Ohio health commissioner, had an employee go home sick.
“We had him tested, but back then, tests were taking forever to come back,” he said.
The department went along, responding to COVID-19 issues in the county, when Zgodzinski’s epidemiologist got sick. Then most of his leadership team, most of whom were working together in the county’s emergency operations center, also fell ill.
“We’re trying to run out of the department like we would for a disaster,” he said. “We were becoming the disaster.”
Zgodzinski himself self-quarantined while the office was closed and deep cleaned. His staff rested and recovered.
“It took about a week, but we got back to half strength,” he said. “Then we recovered, but for a few days, we were decimated.”
Right when the demand for their services was the greatest. Other colleagues stepped up to the plate to fill in.
“We’re public health, we know the issues,” Zgodzinski said. “The message to my peers in the state, and they listened, was ‘who knows how we got it in here?’
“It’s a nefarious disease. The person with the temperature, you know to exclude them. The person who is asymptomatic? You don’t know who they are.”
Some county services, like the TB and STD clinics and an immunization program, were unavailable for a few days once the building was closed to the public, but nutritional programs continued.
“For the most part we were fully operational, the department never shut down, we just shut down some programs out of an abundance of caution,” Zgodzinski said.
His leadership team then transitioned to working from home, and has been doing so since.
“The biggest challenge at that point was conducting business while remaining compliant with HIPPA,” he said.