After 17 Years, Shore Resident Bill Hall Returns to Epidemiology Career

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The U. S. Navy hospital ship Comfort heads out of the Chesapeake Bay into the Atlantic Ocean, en route to New York City, on Saturday, March 28, 2020. Photo by Bill Hall.

By Carol Vaughn

Seventeen years after he last worked as an epidemiologist, Eastern Shore resident Bill Hall answered the call to join in Virginia’s COVID-19 response.
“I am one of several retired or former epidemiologists who have returned to … assist in the COVID-19 response,” Hall said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Hall is in his second week doing vital work during the crisis — he’s under contract to work up to 30 hours a week, which he said usually happens in less than three days.
Hall formerly worked as an epidemiologist for the Eastern Shore Health District, and also worked for Accomack County Public Schools. More recently, Hall has been working at North Street Market in Onancock.
Hall also is an avid fisherman and for several years has written the Post’s fishing column, but he isn’t getting to do much fishing this spring.
For now, Hall is assigned to work as an epidemiology program administration specialist with the Eastern Region Epidemiology Office, in the Norfolk Health Department building.
“I am a roving epidemiologist. What that means is that I’m available to travel to whichever district in the Eastern Region of the state that is in the greatest need of epi manpower — which usually means the district with the largest number of outbreaks, clusters, deaths, etc.,” Hall said.
Hall said he was talking to a former colleague from the health department recently and told the person, “If you all need any help, let me know. That same afternoon, I got a call (from the regional office)…saying, ‘We need you.’”
“I felt like I needed to answer the call,” he said.
“I got an email that said I had a job on a Sunday, and then, on Monday, a computer arrived at my house by UPS,” he said.
Hall spends his days interviewing COVID-19 patients and their contacts; trying to locate contacts who might have been exposed to the virus; and doing patient followups, case reviews, case monitoring, and data entry, among other tasks.
Additionally, he provides guidance to health care facilities and physicians about testing criteria.
The people Hall works with are putting in 12- to 18-hour days lately — and working on weekends.
“The burden created on the health care and public health system is unimaginable,” Hall said, adding, “My hat just goes off to all the people who are doing all this work.”
On his first day of training — in what could be seen as a symbolic event — Hall was driving back from Newport News. Va., when he caught sight of the U. S. Navy hospital ship Comfort leaving the Chesapeake Bay and heading into the Atlantic, en route to New York City to assist with pandemic response.
One of the hardest things to get used to in the current situation is to forego typical forms of greeting people, instilled in anyone raised in the South, he said.
“That was the hardest thing to get used to. When I saw all the people I worked with 17 years ago, your first instinct is to give a hug or a handshake,” Hall said, adding, “Now you kind of push your elbow at them and say ‘Hey.’”