Community Profiles: Mandy Walsh and Heather Warner

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DELHI – While many local residents have been staying home, itching to get back to work and back to their activities, two local women have been working seven days a week in the battle against a pandemic.

Mandy Walsh is Public Health Director for Delaware County and Heather Warner is Public Health Programs Manager. They’ve both been with the Department of Public Health Services for more than ten years. They’re both healthcare professionals. Walsh is an epidemiologist. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, their jobs involved juggling multiple programs, with education, clinics, immunization and prevention efforts, as well as recording and reporting birth and death certificates. Since mid-March, the virus has monopolized their time.

“With this essential emergency, we’re trying to make sure that we maintain as many other essential services as we can,” Walsh said. “Monday might be my least favorite day. It’s when you have to make your best guess and schedule staff, trying to anticipate the worst case scenario.”

The department has doubled its on-call system, and though the twelve hour days are beginning to be more spread out, both women say the work to be done is still 24/7. 

The stress is unrelenting. There have been many reports of an increase in stress-related dreams during the shutdown, and Walsh said she’s had them, too.

“I was talking through reports in my sleep,” she said. “I was sleep walking, too.”

Both of them said their families have tried to shelter them from some of the anger that gets vented on social media.

“My husband took away my phone,” Warner said, laughing. “No Facebook.”

“I have relatives who screen for me, too,” Walsh said. “The hardest part about this situation, for some people, is there’s is nothing else to do. There’s so little they can do to distract themselves and occupy their minds, unless they’re doing something positive like making masks.”

“It was really hard when we used to see the comments after someone died,” Warner agreed. “These are real people. It’s a real thing. We’re talking about human beings. And they’re not allowed to be with their loved ones, the families can’t grieve together and give each other comfort.”

Walsh’s young school-age children, she said, are “having a different experience than their friends.”

“Their families are home. It’s a huge balancing act at our house. But I’m lucky. I have a lot of family support.”

Warner said her family has stepped up, too, and is doing all the cooking, making the meals she used to make.

Walsh said distance learning has been a challenge for both her and her youngest child, a second grader. “It’s hard to keep track of their work. It’s basically college level learning adjusted for younger students. You really have to guide the younger ones.”

Her son’s best friend is moving, and he is upset that he probably won’t be able to see him before he goes.

Warner said her children, who are older, have seen their plans put on hold.

“My daughter is in college and wasn’t able to do her clinical for her nursing program. My son is a senior in high school. He told me recently that he never thought he’d miss school, but he’s missing it.”

She warned him “early on” that there might not be a graduation this year. She apologized to him when that became a certainty.

“He said, ‘It’s not like I’m the only one.’ I thought was very mature and big of him,” Warner said.

Asked what they’re hoping for for Mother’s Day, Warner and Walsh agreed.

“No snow.”

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