Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Robin Iszler, unit administrator for Central Valley Health District, said one goal came to her mind when she first heard about the possible coronavirus pandemic spreading to the United States.
"How do we get information to the public so they can be safe," she said. "... what was our agency's role going to be and who our partners would be."
Iszler said public health experiences during the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 provided some background information to leaders.
"H1N1 was much like COVID," she said. "Different groups, H1N1 targeted young people, but there wasn't a vaccine available right away."
In 2009, H1N1, which was also called the swine flu, caused a limited number of deaths in the United States and North Dakota. Public health agencies, including Central Valley Health District, held mass vaccination clinics for the swine flu that are still the blueprint for the vaccination efforts now going on for the coronavirus pandemic.
"COVID was much more in depth," Iszler said. "Much longer, much more devastating."
The length of time the coronavirus pandemic has lasted is one of the things that has surprised Iszler.
"A whole year is a long time to deal with this," she said.
Another issue surprising Iszler is the divisiveness the pandemic has caused.
"How it became political," she said. "The lack of trust in science by some people."
Others in the community worked with Central Valley Health and other health care professionals to deal with the pandemic as best as possible.
"We were lucky in Jamestown and Stutsman County," Iszler said. "People listen to the information and follow the information. People have been patient, waiting their turns for tests and vaccines."
Jamestown Mayor Dwaine Heinrich said Iszler's leadership has been a big part of the community response to the coronavirus pandemic.
"As far as the medical aspect goes," he said, "there is no question but that Robin has been the leader."
Heinrich said the Emergency Operating Commission, a committee of local health care professionals and government leaders, began meeting in the early days of the pandemic with Iszler serving a leadership role.
"She has done a remarkable job of keeping people focused and grounded," he said. "When things looked too good, she kept reminding us there could be another spike. When things were bad during the surge, she reminded us we could handle this."
During the year of the pandemic, local leaders and medical agencies have had to work together on many projects.
"Not a lot of territorial disputes," Iszler said.
The vaccination process is an example of cooperation within the community.
"We work with the pharmacies, clinics and hospitals to make it as efficient as possible," Iszler said.
Hopefully, the vaccines available now and the future treatments and vaccines being researched now mark the end of this pandemic in the future, although that will not end the need for concern.
"We are watching for the next one," Iszler said. "We are in a mobile society. We all travel. It doesn't take much for a disease to spread."
Depending on the next virus, some of the precautions such as masks and social distancing may be called into play again.
Iszler said that in the event of a new disease, her department would use the skills gained in the coronavirus pandemic to help the public.
"Keeping public information fresh and keeping people engaged," she said. "Hopefully we are doing a good job at that."