Our People in Profile: COVID Questions Team brought together public health professionals to provide additional support for Nova Scotians with COVID-19 questions and concerns during third wave

Lindsay Goldrich Sharpe, left, and Louise Hopper were members of the COVID Questions Team.
Lindsay Goldrich Sharpe, left, and Louise Hopper were members of the COVID Questions Team.

Since March of 2020 when the pandemic broke out in Nova Scotia, public health offices across the province have been responding to public inquiries related to COVID-19.

The last 19 months have seen public health teams adapt and persevere through the ever-changing COVID-19 situation in Nova Scotia and beyond to provide the most up-to-date answers and information to their communities.

Many times, public health’s phone lines and email were overwhelmed with the volume of COVID-19 questions and concerns. Patient Relations offices and other organizational contacts were also swamped with calls and emails.

When the third wave struck Nova Scotia back in the spring, the COVID Questions Team was formed to help alleviate the workload that public health offices and Patient Relations teams across the province faced. This additional layer of public health support was needed to respond to the number of emails and calls received on any given day. 

Eleven team members were added to respond directly to email inquiries, supporting the 28 administrative staff that had been responding to phone inquiries since the beginning of the pandemic.

During the third wave, the average number of phone calls and email inquiries per day were over 100, each.

The COVID Questions Team was responsible for fielding questions from the public that had to do with current COVID-19 restrictions, testing and vaccinations. The team had deep expertise in public health and excellent navigation skills to find the right information.

The team also brought together public health professionals who all held various roles throughout the pandemic response, including supporting long-term care facilities and case management of COVID-19, such as contact tracing.

One of the COVID Questions Team professionals was Louise Hopper, a health promoter in the Western Zone, which spans across the Annapolis Valley, South Shore and South West of Nova Scotia. Prior to the pandemic, Hopper’s role focused on developing healthy public policy, partnership development and health equity to strive towards healthier populations.

Like her colleagues on the COVID Questions Team, Hopper had taken on several public health roles in the COVID-19 response effort, including supporting schools as they reopened last fall, being part of the team that delivered negative COVID-19 test results and assisting at immunization clinics.

In her role with the COVID Questions Team, Hopper was responsible for answering email inquiries from the public.

“An important part of our role in the COVID Questions Team was to be empathetic listeners to Nova Scotians during a very stressful time,” said Hopper. “We would sometimes get questions from people who were experiencing a situation like a death in the family, but with the COVID-19 restrictions at the time, were not able to enter the province to visit them.”

Whether there were questions around travel restrictions, isolation requirements, or gathering limits, public health often had to bear witness to hardships resulting from the pandemic.

“Sometimes we had to give people bad news,” she said. “But we had an extremely supportive team. Any time one of us was dealing with a tough situation, we supported each other and helped navigate it.”

Hopper encourages Nova Scotians to find a reliable source to get the most updated information on COVID-19, and news in general. As information changes daily, it is important to stay up-to-date and informed. “There are so many sources of information out there that it can feel overwhelming at times. We encourage people to try and plan ahead as much as possible but to reach out when things are not clear,” said Hopper.

Another COVID Questions Team professional was Lindsay Goldrich Sharpe, an administrative assistant for the public health team in the Northern Zone, spanning across Colchester-East Hants, Cumberland and Pictou areas. Goldrich Sharpe provides administrative support to her colleagues in the Northern Zone Early Years team, Cumberland office, coordinates biologicals and completes payroll for the Northern Zone public health offices.

Within the COVID Questions Team, Goldrich Sharpe was on the frontline answering phone calls from the public. During the peak of the third wave, Goldrich Sharpe took around 30 calls a day.

With each news release there was a rise in call volume and a shift in questions.

“The most rewarding parts of my role were being able to help callers in seeking the information they required, reducing their anxiety about the unknown and hearing their smile at the end of our call,” said Goldrich Sharpe.

“We really strived to reassure the caller, assist and support them with information they needed while being compassionate,” she said.

Having people answering questions with care is important in serving the public and creating trust and rapport.

“It is important for people to recognize that we can only control what we do as individuals,” said Goldrich Sharpe. “Everyone is trying their best. To be kind is so important.”

While many of the COVID Questions team members have been reassigned to other roles, Goldrich Sharpe and other administrative assistants continue to respond to COVID-19 related calls that are directed to the public health offices.

Thank you to our public health professionals and the COVID Questions Team for their compassion and support in providing Nova Scotians with essential information around COVID-19 to keep our communities safe and healthy.