Faces of the Pandemic: Long hours, but improved scenery for county’s epidemiologist
Josh Vance sees move from Texas to help Pitkin County as “opportunity of a lifetime”
Josh Vance was working in West Texas for the Texas Department of Health earlier this year when he saw the posting for an epidemiologist needed in Pitkin County.
The COVID-19 pandemic was still in the early stages and the 30-year-old California native said he wanted to be able to help out. Plus, there the lifestyle advantages of the Roaring Fork Valley over Midland, Texas, were appealing.
“I love it (here),” Vance said in an interview earlier this week. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to live and work and play in this part of the country. It’s certainly different than living in Texas.”
Vance parachuted into Pitkin County mid-pandemic and began work June 15. It didn’t take long for him to notice the difference between the bird’s eye view of working for the state and the boots-on-the-ground view of working for a county.
“It was just a complete change from what I was used to,” he said.
His work for the state of Texas tended to be insulated, and on the policy level. On the local level, there’s a completely different set of people who play into decisions, from local politicians to local business concerns to making sure all members of society have access to health equity, Vance said.
The job has required learning the best strategies to address different audiences and the best methods to communicate with local residents, he said. It’s also required his attendance at meetings.
“There’s way more meetings here at the county level,” Vance said. “Things just flow differently and more rapidly than at the state level. You’re really in the thick of things (locally).”
A year-end series by The Aspen Times taking a look at the people behind the masks who helped our community get through 2020. To read more profiles, go to aspentimes.com/faces-of-the-pandemic
The biggest hurdle has been getting the balance right.
“Making the right decisions for the population you’re serving,” he said. “I would say that is most challenging of all.”
Vance and his team of eight disease investigators and contact tracers have not worked eight-hour days during the pandemic, especially lately when cases began surging in November. Vance said his day usually begins about 7 a.m. and ends between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.
“It’s been long hours,” he said, and he’s tried to guard against burnout. “If you take a day off, you get behind. It’s hard to make sure we’re staying on top of things.”
If he or his team miss one thing, it could mean an outbreak or someone in need of food goes hungry or one of many other negative outcomes, he said.
“It can morph into something a lot longer,” Vance said. “There’s a lot of pieces to keep up on.”
Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock praised Vance, particularly the detailed COVID-19 data analysis he produces each day.
“I would put our data up against every other county in the state,” Peacock said. “And that’s largely due to the work Josh has done for us.”
In addition, Vance and Environmental Health Director Kurt Dahl have put together a solid contact-tracing team, he said.
“We were lucky to get Josh in our organization and on our team,” Peacock said.
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As much as anyone else, Dr. Greg Balko is tired of the pandemic. The emergency medicine physician and other health care workers on the front lines in Aspen are experiencing the same pandemic fatigue that has wearied many in the face of COVID-19.