The meaning behind Dane County’s COVID-19 dashboard isn’t lost on Katarina Grande.
“It’s been tough,” she said. “We’ve been posting daily data for nearly a year and we’re incredibly sensitive that behind the numbers are people and family.”
The city-county health department’s COVID-19 dashboard began as a one-person operation that required a few data points entered manually every day. It’s grown into an extensive process, pulling data from multiple sources and demanding at least an hour of processing time each morning — a routine repeated every day, without fail, by someone on the six-person data team led by Grande.
Late last fall, when cases surged, was a low point for Grande, who delivers the daily data report to Public Health Madison and Dane County staff over Zoom.
“Reporting the death counts out day after day was draining,” she said. “It felt like I was announcing a funeral every day.”
Grande tried to find a glimmer of hope somewhere in the data to share with her colleagues, like strong testing numbers or the opening of a community testing site.
Nationally, public health department employees over the past year have left the field in droves, attacked for doing their job, demoralized by harassment, fearful that their safety was in jeopardy.
In Dane County, people have shown up at public health director Janel Heinrich’s home, Grande said. They’ve yelled at employees wearing masks with the department logo on them and screamed at contact tracers who are just trying to minimize the virus’ reach. Nearly every member of her team has been harassed online. Most every department employee has minimized their social media presence.
“We’ve been called every name we can think of,” she said. “It wears on you, for sure.”
A mental health consultant was built into the department’s emergency response so employees can seek help when they need it.
Pre-pandemic, Grande worked on maternal and children’s health for the department. Despite this year’s round-the-clock work — she’s logged 225 night or weekend hours — Grande is grateful for the opportunity to return to her roots. She studied epidemiology in graduate school.
“It’s not all gloomy,” she said. “This is absolutely what I trained for. It’s also energizing.”
Grande and her team are also encouraged by the addition of a new data category to track: vaccination progress.