Hannah Ruegner is one of our amazing Impi team ambassadors, and when she’s not running, she works as an epidemiologist to study diseases. Hannah currently works for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and is on the COVID19 response team. Hannah was kind enough to give us a sneak peek inside what her life has been like these past several months, working on the front lines amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Q: Why did you decide to get into this field of study?
Hannah: The first thing I remember saying I wanted to be when I grew up was a doctor. I grew up in a family of medical professionals and loved hearing stories about their work. When I started college, my major was biology/pre-med; however, during my sophomore year, my school started a new major, public health. To be honest, I knew nothing about public health. After deciding to take an introduction to public health class, I realized I wanted to study infectious diseases and try to help entire populations, not just individuals.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about your schooling and work history?
Hannah: After graduating from the College of Charleston with a Bachelor of Science in Public Health, I spent some time as a private nanny before running across America with the Ulman Foundation. While running across the country, my team and I raised funds and awareness for young adults with cancer. Once I finished my cross country journey, I worked in fundraising before deciding to go back to school and get my masters degree. I started my Master of Public Health (MPH) degree at The George Washington University in 2017. During this time I worked as a preschool teacher and private nanny. In 2018, I finished my accelerated MPH program and continued to work as a nanny/preschool teacher until I joined the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SC DHEC).
Q: What does your personal life look like outside of work right now. Do you live with others (what precautions do you take when you get home from work?)
Hannah: I live with my boyfriend and our three fur babies, one dog and two cats. Currently, we are both fortunate enough to be able to work remotely. Therefore, I do not have to worry about coming home from the office and contaminating everything along the way. Until a few days ago, South Carolina governmental employees were asked to work from home. Now some essential employees that cannot work remotely are able to go into the office. Thankfully, I can work remotely, and I plan to do so for the foreseeable future since I have severe asthma.
But when I do have to go out in public, I wear a mask, I make sure I don’t use my phone while in stores (trying not to cross contaminate), and perform hand hygiene often. I throw away my grocery bags or throw my reusable ones in the wash as soon as I am home and I even sanitize my groceries before they come into my apartment. I am also continuing to avoid large group gatherings and only see small groups of people at a distance when we are outside.
Q: What has this experience been like for you amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic?
Hannah: It has been a very crazy experience. This is something I have studied my entire adult life and I honestly cannot wait for it to be over! Before the pandemic, I worked with healthcare associated infections in hospitals and nursing homes. Now I work anywhere between 9-14 hours a day solely on COVID-19. Currently, I take on-call shifts to report cases, deaths, and help with contact tracing. I also work to improve infection prevention and control practices to decrease transmission within healthcare facilities and assist in making guidance for the public.
Q: What would you like the public to know, that maybe has not been depicted accurately in the news about the current state of the disease?
Hannah: Two things I would love for the public to know:
1. For the longest time, people thought that COVID-19 was no worse than the seasonal flu. I want people to know that this disease is in a completely different ball park than the flu. It can cause severe illness in anyone, even people that are healthy; therefore, everyone is at risk.
2. It originally was thought that COVID-19 had minimal effects on children. This is not the case anymore. Now the scientific community is discovering it can cause Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in children.
Since everyone is at risk, people should continue to perform hand hygiene (soap and water for 20 seconds or using alcohol based hand sanitizer), wear masks, and stay away from large groups. If you decide to have a group gathering, consider having it outside where proper social distancing can be practiced.
Q: What do you do during your personal time to manage stress and anxiety?
Hannah: With the minimal personal time I currently have, I try to squeeze in some runs, strength exercises, cuddling with my fur babies, and getting enough sleep. Running has always been my source of stress relief and I am trying to make sure I at least run a few days a week. I also love to read, but lately I just fall asleep!
Q: What advice or public service announcement do you have for others?
Hannah: Try to keep positive, your mental health is super important. And remember you cannot control anyone else but yourself!
Q: Anything else to add?
Hannah: Thank you so much for this opportunity! I am so happy to share some public health information with my wonderful Balega family!
From all of us at Balega, a huge thank you to Hannah and all of the front line healthcare workers for your hard work and dedication to helping others during these unprecedented times. We are forever grateful for your service and bravery!