CDC Foundation Sets Up Surge Staff for Success

By any standard, they’re an impressive group. These experienced public-health professionals have published articles, garnered multiple advanced degrees, served in the U.S. Armed Forces, won prestigious awards, managed teams across the globe and contributed to the fight against domestic violence, tobacco use, maternal mortality, tuberculosis and much more.

Now, they are key members of the CDC Foundation’s pandemic response. Serving as regional coordinators, they’re committed to advising and managing the hundreds of surge staff, known as the “COVID-19 Corps,” who’ve been hired by the CDC Foundation as part of the federally supported emergency initiative to increase capacity on the ground.

Regional Coordinator Dorothy Evans

Regional Coordinator Kate Froeb

Regional Coordinator Emily Rohman


Early in the pandemic, many jurisdictions struggled to find qualified candidates for technical, hard-to-fill positions like infection preventionists and data engineers, and the CDC Foundation stepped up to assist, putting together what amounted to its own employment agency in a matter of weeks. In total, more than 1,000 COVID-19 Corps members have been mobilized in just six months, including close to 800 workers hired through a federal cooperative agreement. This surge staff is now providing on-the-ground aid to local, state, territorial and tribal health departments in 50 states and U.S. territories across 10 regions.

In the process, the Foundation has created an entirely new and diverse public health community, who contribute to the response as contact tracers, case investigators, microbiologists, lab support, epidemiologists, infection prevention specialists, data scientists, communications specialists and more. And the regional coordinators, or “RCs” as they’re known, are dedicated to helping these critical public-health workers succeed in their roles.

This is the first foray into the public-health arena for many of the COVID-19 Corps, and some have been inspired to continue their careers in the field. And the jurisdictions are pleased with their efforts as well, with the majority expressing a wish to keep their assigned workers after the current federal grant expires.

That overwhelmingly positive response is due, in no small part, to the RCs, who are leveraging their own public health and management experiences to create mentoring, peer-to-peer learning and professional development opportunities for their assigned teams—which will no doubt be of benefit to them far beyond their current assignments.

They’ve also become key conduits between CDC and health department jurisdictions, passing along the very latest vital COVID-19 information and guidance documents to the response staff at the ground level.

As the Midwest Region 5 Regional Coordinator Judith Weinstein explained, “I’m here to support the team and make their lives easier in the field.” And that runs the gamut, “everything from signing off on a timecard to providing them with CDC guidance to assist them in the content of their work.”

One of her assigned staffers, Minnesota Department of Health Contact Tracer Sophia Walker, is happy to have built that relationship. “Judith always makes sure we have all the information we need to be successful, and not only that, she also focuses on our other interests—which exemplifies how above-and-beyond she goes in her role.”

Field employees work in different roles and departments and are often working remotely. These meetings create a space for them to pause and reflect on their work, build a sense of team, and learn from each other to gain a deeper understanding of the big picture for the response.


Along with regular one-on-one check-ins with each of their field employees, the RCs have devised a number of creative ways to increase peer-to-peer connection and networking, through e-newsletters, Zoom meet-ups and more.

In New England’s Region 1, Catherine Cairns holds bi-weekly online meetings for COVID-19 Corps members to converse and compare notes. “Within each state team, field employees work in different roles and departments, and are often working remotely. These meetings create a space for them to pause and reflect on their work, build a sense of team, learn from each other to gain a deeper understanding of the big picture for the response, and participate in real-time problem solving.”

Epidemiologist Kimberly Perez, who was stationed at the Vermont Department of Health, speaks highly of Cairns: “Catherine’s weekly meetings—both the one-on-one meetings and the team calls—have been incredibly valuable! She’s strengthened connections within and across CDC Foundation state teams and has identified critical resources I’ve used when developing training materials for my state. Her previous experience and personal warmth make her a fabulous mentor for our work with state health departments.” Perez is one of several COVID-19 Corps members who’ve been hired by their jurisdictions or another health organization to continue their exemplary work.

Regional coordinators have also provided numerous mentoring and networking opportunities. Staffers have been matched together based on areas of interest, in the process connecting more than 75 mentors and mentees.

Dorothy Evans in the Midwest’s Region 7 built a community of practice for molecular analysts. Similar groups for communications specialists and contact tracers are popping up as well. Many of the RCs have organized learning sessions on a variety of professional topics from respected public-health experts, including an Association of Public Health Laboratories policy administrator and Emily Landon, the Executive Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Control, at the University of Chicago. All of these endeavors are setting field staffers up for success and increasing the capacity of health departments to build for the future.

And their COVID-19 Corps colleagues are definitely appreciative of the effort. Dr. BJ Ezell, a COVID-19 Corps member stationed with the Florida Department of Health, calls her RC Sarah Laaff “simply the best—proactive, personable, almost instantaneous with responses. I am blessed to have the opportunity to be on her team.”




This article was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totalling $45,939,536 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, CDC/HHS or the federal government.

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