“I think that the pandemic highlighted the significance of health, of being healthy, of having health and having access to health care. I really hope that there are changes that can go on to see that we are all in this together. We’re all human beings and, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter your wealth, if you don’t have your health.”
Dr. Traci Alberti is an associate dean in the Merrimack College School of Health Sciences and an associate professor in the Department of Nursing, as well as a certified family nurse practitioner. Once the pandemic hit, she served on the college’s COVID-19 Task Force, including as co-chair of the mitigation subcommittee for the 2020-2021 school year. Her work focused on how to get everybody back onto campus, and, once on campus, how to keep everybody safe. She was in control of receiving and distributing test results, as well as contact tracing students.
In the interview, Alberti shares her personal experiences of the pandemic as well as her perspective as a clinician who understands the science behind the virus. She describes the processes involved in organizing and receiving test results and what it was like alerting COVID-positive members of the community. She also discusses the different challenges COVID-19 created for the Merrimack community and the changes it physically and emotionally created on campus.
Katie Tully: In the last year, what was a typical day and like your work life, like?
Traci Alberti: So my typical day early and certainly in the fall semester, I would–I would not sleep very well. I would be up at two or three in the morning and I would be immediately checking for results. I always wanted to know what kind of–how many positive cases we would have for the day. The results would roll in overnight and certainly they would be resulted within 24 hours of the sample being picked up. We had a courier coming to the college four times a day, so that those samples would be processing all throughout the day.
So my day would start around two or three in the morning, I would get up, I would check my phone. Sometimes I would get out of bed and physically go down to my computer in my office if I was nervous about what those numbers might look like, run reports, see where we were at, and go back to bed for a couple of hours then get up and start my day around five or six in the morning. I would run these reports–we had kind of data spreadsheets that different administrators would have access to to be able to know from a numbers perspective, where things were rolling out–and I would update that throughout the day. I would be checking results every hour on the hour until all of the results from the previous day were in. I would start notifying and calling if it was employees or I would probably start those phone calls early at six thirty in the morning, assuming that people would have a commute to get to work. If they were students, I probably started calling people between seven and eight AM. I wanted to try to catch people before they were out of the rooms, quite frankly, so I was calling people early. Waking people up, a lot of students and giving them the news that they were positive. Some students would be surprised by that, because a lot of times people did not feel any symptoms. Sometimes never at all, sometimes the symptoms would come later and sometimes the symptoms would be mild in our student population. They would be easily ignored, a little bit of a stuffy nose, a little bit of a headache they just weren’t recognizable.
So I’d start calling people notifying them, interviewing them trying to get a sense of where they have been around, where they could have come in contact and then taking notes on who they lived with and who they had been in close proximity with–defining what that was. That definition of a close contact. Going back in time, I would take them through their day minute by minute. What did they do? Who did they eat with? Did they go anywhere? What do they do on campus? What kind of classes are they in? You know all of that kind of history from them. Giving them the educational material, finding out where they needed to go for either isolation for the positive cases or quarantine. Then working in collaboration with Residence Life and the dean of students’ staff to get students isolated and quarantined through us if they lived really far away or helping them make the plans to get themselves home if they were going to be going home for isolation in quarantine.
I had meetings weekly with the local boards of health, keeping them addressed as to what our numbers were looking like, what our policies were, things that we were doing on campus. Just to kind of keep that line of communication open. I had frequent contact with the state and worked with a couple of state employees. I would sometimes consult with the state epidemiologist if there were questions or even as some of the variants started to kind of crop up, we would work together to identify if we have any of those kinds of variants. They would be doing different levels of testing at the lab working with the lab coordinating.
Our testing center was in the gym so we converted our gym into–I believe it was five or six rows, five or six bays for testing. Then we had a whole staff. We hired a medical firm to come in and run the actual swabbing of testing. The tests were designed for patients to be able to swap themselves but early on in the pandemic President Hopey really wanted to ensure that we were sampling patients and employees correctly, so we had medical staff collecting the samples for our population so–and then at the end of the day when I was done with those, with responding to all the results from yesterday. The next day’s results would start to roll in, and I would do it all over again. I also had bi-monthly meetings with the state where the epidemiologists would get on a webinar with all the colleges and all of the people that were managing the health and wellness for the colleges and the testing. So we would always have constant communication on where things were across the globe, across the nation and across the state, how those policies were rolling out, and you know how to best implement the best procedures and policies for our school.
KT: It sounds like you had busy days every day.
TA: It was busy, it was a busy time.
The interview was conducted in North Andover, MA, over Zoom on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 at 12:30pm by Katie Tully.
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.