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Alvina Chu, Orange County Department of Health’s New Interim Director of Infectious Diseases, Talks Contact Tracing, Public Health and the Next Pandemic

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Photo: Orange County Department of Health

Alvina Chu has been named interim director of infectious diseases for the Florida Department of Health in Orange County.

Chu led the county’s COVID-19 tracing efforts during the pandemic, and in her new role she’ll focus on infectious disease prevention, testing and treatment. 

WMFE talked with Chu about how she’d like to improve public health in the county and whether she thinks we’re ready for the next pandemic.

Read the full interview below. 

Danielle: So Alvina, you led Orange County’s efforts in contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic? Where do we stand on contact tracing now, almost a year and a half into the pandemic?

Alvina: Well, we are really getting a great handle on the pandemic. And we’re encouraged by the increasing vaccinations, which has helped us decrease the caseload. And also, most, what we most celebrate is the real decrease in severe hospitalizations and deaths. And really, the impact on our most vulnerable populations has declined so much since a year and a half ago. But we continue our contact tracing efforts, because as we know, you know, there’s still people who are infected every day. And also still, unfortunately, we have deaths that occur.

Danielle: In your new role, you’ll have oversight of the programs in immunology, HIV prevention, sexually transmitted infections, TB and refugee health. That’s a tall order, where would you like to start in the next few months?

Alvina: Identifying cases, putting in prevention measures, and then also treatment measures. And so we’d like to take a look at integrating all of these functions together, regardless of necessarily disease.

Danielle: What do you think the greatest threat to public health is in Orange County right now, as the pandemic is winding down? Is it still COVID-19? Or is it something else?

Alvina: Well, you know, there, there’s always a something else is the thing that’s a little bit exciting or interesting about infectious diseases is that they, you’ll never know exactly when the next thing or infectious disease epidemic or outbreak might come. And so one of the challenges is education, public education, about prevention measures for infectious diseases, which sometimes can be generalized, and, you know, certain basic categories. So, we’d like to increase our efforts to try to get those who are out of care into care, and then also increase prevention efforts.

Danielle: Do you think Orange County is ready for the next pandemic? From an epidemiological standpoint? I know the CDC director said she doesn’t think the larger US is right now.

Alvina: Well, you know, this isn’t our first pandemic, as far as pandemic scale. I think we learn from every event, or shall we say that we go through. You know, if it’s if it’s a hurricane, or if it’s an infectious disease pandemic, or, or even some kind of tragic events, at you know, as we’re coming up on the history of the anniversary of Pulse. You know, we learn from these responses that we have to take, and we apply those to future events, hopefully, which will never happen. But as far as the world of infectious diseases go, we know certainly can.

Danielle: I guess my last question is, what do you wish residents would know about your field of infectious diseases and keeping themselves safe? I know during the pandemic, we heard about handwashing and mask wearing but what do you wish people knew about your field that they might might not know right now?

Alvina: Well, that infectious diseases there’s there’s a lot of basic control measures that could help us prevent all sorts of infectious diseases. You know, those ones that are spread person to person can be prevented or at least transmission can be decreased if we all practice basic hand hygiene, covering our coughs during you know, respiratory, respiratory illness seasons, and also just washing our hands after using restrooms, or before preparing food. I mean, all of that are basic prevention measures. That would help us keep be healthier.

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Danielle Prieur

About Danielle Prieur

Reporter & Fill-in Host

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter at WMFE. You can hear her reporting on a daily basis on the station. She also fills-in as a host during the morning and afternoon drive times. Her reporting has been featured on NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and Vox. Danielle is originally from Rochester Hills, ... Read Full Bio »