A Day in the Life: Annabelle Turner, COVID-19 response worker

It’s 5am when University of Melbourne Master of Public Health student turned COVID-19 response worker Annabelle Turner begins her day.

She’s at the Department of Health and Human Services office in Melbourne and, as part of her role in the Intelligence team, is busy extracting data from the Department’s online surveillance system. This system is where information collected by contact tracers is stored, and it’s what’s used to generate a report of Victoria’s case numbers for the day.

“We've gotta get up early, extract data, code, get everything ready for that,” Annabelle says.

Source: Pexels

The Situation Report (or ‘SitRep’, as it’s known around the office) is the most crucial piece of work for the day – it is what determines the state’s day-by-day COVID-19 response – and has to be double checked and ready for distribution at 7:30am.

Annabelle describes it as a somewhat high pressure and stressful time as the team works to ensure the reporting is accurate and provided on time, but there’s also a lot of support to get through it, with several managers and staff from other teams to report to and liaise with. The SitRep then informs the daily announcements that Victorians rely on.

Once the SitRep’s out, Annabelle works closely with contact tracers to get information on developing or current outbreaks as part of the Outbreaks team.

“After the morning tasks, there are then a number of team meetings and discussions to go over developments in processes or any new outbreaks,” she says.

This involves producing outbreak reports and undertaking epidemiological investigation to determine index cases or sources of infection.

Several times a day, people from across the Department will convene to discuss an outbreak. At the time of writing, a sustained increase in the number of cases and outbreaks in Victoria saw many within the state return to Stage 3 lockdown. As a result, the work related to outbreaks was taking up increasingly larger portions of the day.

“There is a strong sense of we have done this before and can do it again,” says Annabelle.

So how did Annabelle secure this role?

She was put forward by Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology and Master of Public Health Course Coordinator, Dr Melissa Russell, when the Department was onboarding staff for the state’s COVID-19 response in early March.

“Annabelle was one of the final year Master of Public Health Epidemiology and Biostatistics Specialisation students we urgently contacted when we were first called upon to support the Victorian COVID-19 response,” Dr Russell says.

“Our students are so skilled in analysing data, integrating information, decision making and communicating, we knew they were perfectly placed to contribute.”

The role is Annabelle’s first public health job and is providing valuable and unique experience within the public health workforce.

“The work is very much within my field of epidemiology and biostatistics,” says Annabelle.

Starting with three days a week, over time the position became a full-time endeavour. As the early starts suggest, it’s not a standard 9-5, Monday to Friday job. But not every shift begins very early in the morning, there are some that end as late as 10pm.

“As a student (and almost graduate), the job has been a great way to enter the workforce and put me in an area with real responsibility and accountability,” she says.

There was no second-guessing when Annabelle was offered the position.

“It's a phenomenal opportunity to be able to be a part of the COVID response, and I’m grateful to be involved in that in any capacity.”

Contributing to the crucial work of responding to an unprecedented health crisis has been an exciting challenge for Annabelle. Having recently handed in her Master’s thesis, the role has seen her through the important transition from university to the workforce.

“It is definitely a steep learning curve with a huge change in pace and expectation, but I believe that is down to the situation we are in,” she says.

“The people I've been around, and the skills and experience I've gotten from this job while still a student, I think it's fantastic. I'm really lucky to have that and I'd love to be able to make use of it.”