Wildcat Warrior: Protecting the health of communities
Posted on May 12, 2020
Public health professional ShaRon Cushion helps his clients and Clayton County residents stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Public health officials are helping lead the effort in combating COVID-19 (coronavirus disease). ShaRon Cushion, a Fort Valley State University Master of Public Health student, is among these front-line warriors making a difference in their community.
Cushion is a health educator and outreach specialist for the Clayton County Health Department. A year and a half on the job, his duties consist of conducting HIV testing and prevention counseling, educating the community and assisting with reporting requirements. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, normal operations changed in mid-March for Cushion and his colleagues, who are heavily testing individuals for the disease.
However, they continue to stay in contact with their regular clients at least every other week. Cushion said he informs his clients with HIV to wear a mask if they must leave the house since COVID-19 can affect their weak immune system. “We make sure they are taking their medications and that they are staying in the house as much as possible,” he added.
The MPH student said this is a hectic time for the department. “It is stressful having to tell people they are positive for COVID-19. They are worried about when they can return to work or that they may get their family members sick. It does get overwhelming sometimes,” said Cushion, who had to contact 75 people on his list that day to confirm they had tested positive for the disease. “It goes up every day.”
He noted some clients are worried that they can get infected again. “Because this is a new virus, scientists and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are unable yet to give us some of those answers. We try to tell people to calm down, stay inside and maintain social distancing,” he said.
The Clayton County Health Department has reported approximately 300 positive cases thus far. Cushion said if a Clayton County resident gets tested at another location, they receive that information so that they can report accurate numbers to the state. The department offers testing at the Spoc, which is a drive-thru clinic located in the parking lot of a children’s health facility in Morrow, Georgia. Cushion said in one day, 55 people came through to get tested for the virus.
To protect themselves, the workers wear personal protective equipment, including N95 masks. Hand sanitizers are located throughout the workplace, and the custodians sterilize the building every two hours. To help with their mental health, the employees take 30-minute wellness breaks. In addition, the department is on a rotating schedule working certain days in the office and at home. Since the Clayton County Health Department building is currently under construction, some employees are working in the Morrow, College Park and Forest Park health departments.
The health educator said they are prepared for an increase in cases since the governor recently reopened the state. “It is a matter of waiting and seeing,” he said.
The work that Cushion does is important to him because he is passionate about helping others. “I knew when I graduated college that I wanted to serve some type of purpose,” he said. “I want to be a person who does something for change and help people. That is my whole motivation. My work is important because we need all public health officials.”
Cushion, who earned a bachelor’s degree in health science from Clayton State University in 2017, envisioned working in the medical or public health field, but he did not expect to land his current position. “Since I work with HIV patients and I have a family member who was diagnosed with HIV, it made me look at it differently,” he said. “When I became more educated about it, I realized I am supposed to be in the public health field.”
The Tifton, Georgia, native said people should take COVID-19 serious because asymptomatic people can spread it without even knowing they have it. He noted some of his positive patients have not shown any symptoms, but their main concern is infecting someone else.
“Another person’s immune system may not be the same as yours. That is why it is important to stay inside, practice 6-feet social distancing and wear a mask if you leave the house. Life is not going to be the same for a while. So, please just try to follow the guidelines,” Cushion advised.
The FVSU Wildcat, who expects to graduate in May 2020, is adapting as best he can during the pandemic. He encourages others to stay safe. “The rest is in God’s hands,” he said. “We are going to make it.”
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