Answering the Call: A Public Health Response to COVID-19

by Antonia Blinn


Over the summer, JPHMP Direct’s “Boots on the Ground,” will be running a series, “Answering the Call: A Public Health Response to COVID-19,” featuring posts from the Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps in Massachusetts. Today’s feature provides background information on the Corps.

In April 2019, eight schools and programs of public health in Massachusetts came together with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) to form an Academic Health Department Consortium (AHD). The idea for the AHD began after a meeting with leaders of Tufts University, Boston University, and Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Monica Bharel. The objectives for the AHD are to foster a practice-oriented education for students of public health, while simultaneously creating collaborative opportunities for faculty and staff, collaboration in the form of trainings; to develop the current and future public health workforce, building the evidence base for public health through joint-research projects; and to better deliver the Essential Public Health Services.

In March 2020, Governor Baker declared a state of emergency for Massachusetts in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, establishing the COVID-19 Command Center, the Commonwealth’s single point of strategic decision making and coordination for the Administration’s comprehensive COVID-19 response. At the request of Governor Baker and the Command Center, the AHD was mobilized to provide support to local boards of health that were responding to the pandemic. At that time, the AHD expanded to include ten public health training programs, two community health worker training programs, the Massachusetts Health Officers Association (MHOA), and the Massachusetts Public Health Association. This stronger, more focused synergy led to the formal development of the Academic Public Health Volunteer Corps (APHVC). The mission of the APHVC is to leverage public health students, alumni, and expert volunteers to augment, amplify, and promote local public health efforts in Massachusetts

Work began down two streams. On one side, the MHOA, on behalf of the AHD, surveyed all 351 local boards of health in Massachusetts to identify their most pressing needs to combat COVID-19. The other side, the AHD had to recruit and deploy volunteers to fill these needs. Each academic partner sent a survey to their staff, alumni, and students calling for volunteers. The response was immense; there were more than 1,900 submissions.

Through engaging operational support from the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) Coalition, in March and April 2020, the first wave of over 600 volunteers was deployed to meet the emergent needs of 77 communities across Massachusetts. In their first month in the field, APHVC volunteers developed scripts and conducted contact tracing calls, developed 33 infographics, 85 pieces for social media, and translated 47 documents into over 10 different languages.

In April 2020, the first wave of over 600 volunteers was deployed to meet emergent needs of over 90 communities across Massachusetts. In their first month in the field, APHVC volunteers developed scripts and conducted contact tracing calls, developed 33 infographics, 85 pieces for social media, and translated 47 documents into over 10 different languages.

For summer 2020, APHVC will continue to deploy hundreds of well-qualified public health volunteers to support many different services such as developing health communications materials, extending community outreach, conducting wellness checks for vulnerable community members, assisting with data analyses and GIS mapping, and developing policies and protocols to assist the state re-opening plan.

Over the next two months, “Boots on the Ground” will present a miniseries of posts, “Answering the Call: A Public Health Volunteer Response to COVID-19,” organized by contributing “Boots on the Ground” editor, Eric Coles. This miniseries will share the experiences of and lessons learned from APHVC’s successful campaigns to support local boards of health, enrich student experiences, and establish unprecedented collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Antonia Blinn

Antonia Blinn is a certified professional in healthcare quality, a certified scrum master and a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt. As Director of Performance Management and Quality Improvement at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, she has focused the past five years on establishing and fostering a culture that supports and promotes utilization of program performance goals and quality improvement and established the Department’s Academic Health Department. Antonia is a program planning committee member of the New England Association for Healthcare Quality and also the chair of the Mansfield, MA, Board of Health.