CORONAVIRUS

Linn County health official sees coronavirus as 'a marathon, not a sprint'

Heather Meador's passion for public health drives pandemic response efforts

Clinical services supervisor Heather Meador of Linn County Public Health poses for a photo April 24 in front of the Harr
Clinical services supervisor Heather Meador of Linn County Public Health poses for a photo April 24 in front of the Harris Building in Cedar Rapids. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Earlier in April during the twice-weekly news conference held by Linn County officials on COVID-19 — where she has been a near-constant presence since they began in mid-March — Linn County Public Health’s Heather Meador described the impact of relaxing social distancing measures.

The virus, having already reached community spread, would move quickly throughout the population. The health care systems would be overwhelmed, leading to deaths that could have been prevented. Already, people of all ages — including those who are young and otherwise healthy — are fighting for their lives in hospitals, she said.

“Every single interaction you make has an impact on someone else,” Meador said in her prepared remarks. “We are in this together, and if we all do our part, we can save lives until we finally get to the end of this marathon.”

It’s public health’s role to educate, Meador said. Throughout the past several weeks, she has warned of “quarantine fatigue,” sternly urging residents to continue social distancing measures recommended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has already infected thousands across the state.

The concern that Iowans may not be heeding these warnings prompts what she describes as her “mom voice” during the news conferences.

“It’s what I’m fearful of, and that’s why that voice comes out,” Meador said in an interview with The Gazette. “We can’t succumb to that temptation.”

The 47-year-old, who graduated from Naperville Central High School in Naperville, Ill., did not start her career in public health. She earned a bachelor of science degree in nursing at Lewis University in Illinois and worked a variety of nursing roles after moving to Eastern Iowa in 1997.

In 2002, her family moved to Solon and she began an eight-year career as a school nurse in the Solon Community School District. There, she was introduced to public health, she said.

School nursing is a component of public health, she said, meaning her role was to ensure students were healthy, safe and ready to learn by educating the students and their families on proper public health practices, such as hand-washing and immunizations.

Meador also saw firsthand the larger public health response from Johnson County officials during the Floods of 2008 and the H1N1 outbreak in 2009. It solidified her belief in public health principles and in 2010, Meador joined Linn County Public Health as a nurse.

Now as the clinical services branch supervisor, Meador oversees the public health clinic, where officials offer immunization services, refugee and immigrant health services, and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment.

As word of an outbreak of a novel coronavirus began spreading in other parts of the world earlier this year, Linn County Public Health officials knew the virus could arrive in Iowa and “wanted to be prepared,” said Meador, now a Cedar Rapids resident.

It’s common for public health officials and others within the county to form an emergency task force for unified responses in a time of crisis, but Meador said they have “never worked with something quite to this scale.”

Though it is a tumultuous time for many, her family included, Meador said guiding and informing the public through this pandemic is what she and others in public health are passionate about.

“This is where we want to be,” Meador said. “This is the profession we’ve chosen, to learn about these different diseases and learn what we can do to combat them.

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“If you’re in the public health field, you have a passion for protecting others, for putting others above self and look for how you can make a difference for your community to make them healthier and stronger and more prepared.”

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.