For the past 11 months, Chana Goussetis has doled out advice, insight and crucial information on the coronavirus pandemic to media sources and community members, providing understanding in a time that has been plagued by the unknown.
As communications and marketing manager with Boulder County Public Health, Goussetis served as a spokesperson day and night for the agency. This week, after 20 years of working for Boulder County Public Health, Goussetis stepped down on Wednesday.
The challenges posed by the pandemic contributed to the decision, she said, but it was not the sole reason she chose to move on.
“My decision to leave was incredibly difficult,” Goussetis said in a phone interview Thursday. “There’s many people in the organization who are like family for me. I also care deeply about our community and really felt quite guilty leaving. When the pandemic began, we were already at a deficit. My main reasoning is I’m tired and I just need rest.”
Since the days leading up to March 14, 2020, when Boulder County announced the first person identified as a presumptive positive case and county commissioners and Boulder declared disaster emergencies, Goussetis has been working roughly 60 hours a week to field a deluge of media inquiries and answer community members’ questions.
“It’s been tough,” she said. “The public health job is to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to live a healthy life. But in a pandemic like this, making a healthy life possible for some older adults at high risk for COVID means hardship for others, like businesses. Public health is caught in the middle.”
A spokesperson during a global pandemic
Every day, Goussetis said, was like four days packed into one. Her mission, and she noted one of the most important elements of her job, was to make sure that the most accurate information was accessible to all Boulder County’s residents. The task was made more challenging by people who called her and declared that they didn’t watch, read or listen to the news, where she was helping to disseminate information.
The county has worked in coordination with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor the virus.
“It was like drinking from a fire house, all day, every day for a year,” Goussetis said. “Most of the state level changes, they happened on a Friday. So that meant all of our staff was working over the weekends to try and answer the flood of questions after there was a change at the state level.”
A crucial part of getting that information out was having the ability to engage and share personal responses with the community over the phone and through email.
“I don’t know if that’s a standard practice in other public health agencies,” Goussetis said. “To me it was really important, I really believe in government representing the people and amplifying the voice of the people and making sure people got an understanding explanatory response to whatever their questions may be.”
As cases and the death toll from the virus rose, Goussetis said emphasizing that the numbers shared on the county’s coronavirus dashboard represented people, not just statistics, was also crucial information to convey.
Getting involved in public health
Goussetis graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder with an undergraduate in film and master’s degree in integrated marketing communications. She started working for Boulder County Public Health because her values driving her to serve her community aligned with those of the agency. In her time with public health, she’s worked in a number of roles, including as a health educator and emergency planner during the 2009 swine flu spread, which the CDC ruled as a pandemic.
Looking back on 20 years with public health, Goussetis said she’s proud of the campaigns initiated by the agency, including helping people choose water over sugary drinks; clean needle exchange information to help addicts prevent the spread of communicable diseases and emphasizing the importance of employers dedicating space for moms to breast feed.
Jeff Zayach, Boulder County Public Health executive director, said Goussetis will be greatly missed.
“Twenty-twenty has been a very difficult year for all of us, and Chana was on the front lines of COVID response from all angles,” Zayach wrote in an email. “Chana was someone who knew our department deeply, understood our policies and I fully trusted to speak on behalf of our department. It’s unique to have someone (who’s) trusted that much, and it speaks volumes of Chana’s skill and expertise. I will miss her.”
Zayach said Goussetis “formed, strengthened, and improved communications across the board in Public Health since she started.”
“What I will most miss is her strong and dedicated commitment to going the extra mile to represent BCPH in all areas,” he wrote. “Her background education really shaped our communication strategies over the years, and she has worked hard to refine and improve communications from individual projects, to programs and finally community-wide the way our department is represented.”
Taking a pause
Goussetis hopes to see more funding go to public health.
“Public health was already overworked and underfunded (before the pandemic) ,” Goussetis said. “We have to fund public health, because this isn’t going to be the last pandemic.”
Zayach said Boulder County Public Health will post an opening for the communications position at the end of the month. In the meantime, Angela Simental, public health’s bilingual communications specialist, will step into the interim communications manager role during the hiring process, he said. Simental has 12 years of professional experience in communications, including working for the cities of Westminster, Commerce City and as a print journalist for the U.S. Army and the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico.
Zayach added that Boulder County Public Health is also in the process of hiring back-fill communications to assist through the vaccination phases. The county, he said, is also providing some communications support.
Goussetis said she will be using her time to take care of herself and her family. She has one daughter, who is 24. Resting, getting outside and taking a break from the computer are also on her agenda.
And she added: “Taking a break from COVID-related news.”
When asked if she wanted to leave the community with a final message, Goussetis said, “Trust public health. Every single person in Boulder County Public Health has the community’s best interest at heart.
“That’s why they’re there. I’ve never met a more passionate and dedicated group of people.”