Campus Alert: Find the latest UMMS campus news and resources at umassmed.edu/coronavirus

Search Close Search

Print

Keeping the workplace safe: UMMS infection control officer forges COVID response

By Susan E.W. Spencer

UMass Medical School Communications

November 17, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those times in life when there is a clear division between “before” and “after,” according to UMass Medical School’s infection control officer, Sharone Green, MD. While she prefers not to use the term, “new normal,” she said things are different now that the coronavirus is widespread and will probably not go back entirely to the way they were before.

greene-sharone-660.png
Sharone Green, MD

“You just have to get used to it,” said Dr. Green, associate professor of medicine and a specialist in infectious diseases. “Masks, distancing—it’s just a new way of living, and they give us our best shot at continuing to live, at least until a vaccine and herd immunity come about. And that’s the important part.”

Green was asked to be the point person on UMMS’s workplace response to the coronavirus last spring, after Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency and the university largely shut down.

“I moved into that role basically to keep the workplace safe,” Green said. “When the university decided to bring people back, there was a lot of anxiety among staff about whether it was safe to come back.”

UMMS was the first higher education institution in the area to require testing for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, for anyone returning to campus. “We held our breaths and luckily, a fleetingly small number of people tested positive. Community rates were decreasing at that time. We were confident that our employees and students would embrace good COVID mitigation strategies, which would enable the important research at UMass Medical School to get started again,” she said.

Between late June and Nov. 1, UMMS conducted 33,904 coronavirus tests and 19 have been positive, a rate of 0.06 percent. Weekly testing numbers and updates on COVID-19 policies, news, and research can be found on the UMMS Coronavirus Updates webpage, which is accessible via a link that sits at the top of every page on the umassmed.edu website.

Green said, “I think one of the reasons that the school has been so successful is because we laid out rules, and employees and students have been very good about following them.”

Green meets with the Medical School’s infection control team weekly and participates in regular UMMS leadership meetings and with staff from the Department of Environmental Health & Safety to constantly assess infection trends on campus and fine tune protocols. Virtual town halls, led by Chancellor Michael F. Collins and held weekly during the spring and summer and now monthly, have been helpful for keeping the community informed, she said.

“One of the things that COVID has really done is it has shown that everyone plays an important role; it made us realize that everyone needs to work together to ensure a safe workplace,” said Green. “My role is in coordinating much of the response and doing my best to communicate that the reason for this is to keep our communities safe. I think that really resonates with people.”

The most challenging aspect of developing a safety plan for COVID is that it’s never been done before, Green said. “Infectious disease doctors—we’re very data driven. We don’t adopt anything until there’s data. But it was really clear from the start that if you waited until there was data on everything, you would be in a very bad place with COVID.”

The infectious disease team’s guidance has panned out and infection numbers inside the university remain low, according to Green, reflecting the community’s respect for the seriousness of the situation and following safety protocols.

Health officers everywhere are struggling with how to maintain public enthusiasm for safety practices such as wearing masks and social distancing as we head into winter and an early-starting influenza season.

“Right now the community, and not only UMass Medical School, is burned out on the whole thing. COVID fatigue is real,” Green said. “But I think that we have put a very good mechanism in place for detection, through our COVID surveillance testing program through the Broad Institute. I am still very concerned about what will happen with the rising numbers of infected people in the community, but we have good systems in place to deal with whatever comes our way”

Green said the pandemic has shown that people need to be engaged in a positive way.

“Punitive policies really aren’t effective,” she said. “If you want to effect change in your community, you need to give a round of applause for everybody who does things right. And if we do get someone who tests positive, which happens because the virus is in the community, then we try to get our employees and students in the workplace to rally around and support them.”

Green said, “I love what I do, I love my role. I think that this is a great opportunity for the community to really show how they stand out and that they really do care about each other. And I care about them.”