Prince George's CountyWilliam J. Ford

Unseen Workers in Prince George’s Critical in COVID-19 Fight

Doctors, nurses and other health care workers are seen as front-line heroes caring for thousands of people who contracted the coronavirus, but other essential workers are also continuing the daily grind behind the scenes.

One such person is Donna Perkins, who’s currently responsible for Prince George’s County’s COVID-19 dashboard that highlights demographics, age, zip code and other data. Meanwhile, Gevonia Whittington directs the county’s Office of Homeland Security, which oversees the offices of Emergency Management and Public Safety Communications, or 911, emergency operations.

“I’d also like to offer my personal thanks to all of our public safety officers and Prince George’s County employees,” said County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. “There are so many people who have held Prince George’s County together during this crisis.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, can more severely affect residents with underlying conditions such as diabetes, asthma and severe obesity. Prince George’s leads the state of Maryland in the number of residents with those chronic conditions.

The majority-Black jurisdiction also continues to record the highest number of confirmed cases in Maryland. Black men account for more than half of the state’s coronavirus deaths.

At least 60 percent of men infected have died from the virus, but more women are treated.

“That is kind of the story we are seeing in our mortality data. We see way more men than women dying from this, especially African American men in an African American jurisdiction,” said Perkins, an epidemiologist and a manager for the office of assessment and planning in the county’s health department. “The interesting thing is we are seeing more women diagnosed in general.”

Perkins has been assigned to work in the county’s Emergency Operations Center in Landover during the coronavirus pandemic.

She joins several other employees at the center working double-digit hours five days a week. On the weekends, workers don’t have to always come in to the emergency center because technology allows them to log in remotely from home to check on data and conduct other work.

Before the daily research and analyzing data begins, Perkins helps organize a virtual check-in with staff and surge planning.

One item residents may notice when looking at coronavirus data online shows some higher figures in the county compared with the state Department of Health.

The state reports its data at 10 a.m. daily, but the county posts its information later in the afternoon.

“I know it is a little confusing for folks, but we wanted to put the most recent information out there,” Perkins said. “It is a team effort. I have a staff person who helps consolidate that information, but the sheer volume of information coming in is substantial.”

What she enjoys the most about coming to work comes with a cliché: “we really have a great rapport.”

The Kentucky native will celebrate 10 years this year residing in Prince George’s, thanks to her husband who relocated to accept a job as a physicist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

“He’s the smart one,” Perkins said. “I truly love serving the county in which I live in. It’s a very self-serving interest.”

Taking Precautions

Roland Berg summarizes his daily routine simply as waking up, eating breakfast, traveling to the emergency operations center, working for about 12 hours, coming home to his wife and their dog Figaro, then getting some sleep.

This has been the retired county firefighter’s process for the past nine weeks.

Roland Berg, training and exercise officer for Prince George's County's Office of Emergency Management, works inside the control room at the county's Emergency Operations Center in Landover. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Roland Berg, training and exercise officer for Prince George’s County’s Office of Emergency Management, works inside the control room at the county’s Emergency Operations Center in Landover. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

“One of the things I have an advantage of is I have a wife that is nurse,” said Berg, whose wife works as a nurse manager for the transport team at Children’s National Medical Center in Northwest. “If you are both involved in this battle, you can support each other and understand each other even more.”

As for Berg, he works as the planning section chief in the county’s Office of Emergency Management. One of his main duties is helping to organize the hundreds of thousands of gloves, hand sanitizer, masks and other equipment for distribution among health care facilities, county agencies and municipalities.

Some of that coordination to receive these resources must be done with state officials.

With Maryland receiving a federal disaster declaration, the county can receive federal assistance to combat the virus. However, Berg said the county must complete documentation to receive 75 percent and the county must provide the other 25 percent.

“It is a long and arduous task,” he said.

Entering the operations center isn’t as grueling, but every person who enters the operations center lobby must receive a temperature check with a noncontact thermometer. If it shows 100 degrees or higher, that person cannot enter the building.

Employees who leave the building for lunch must have their temperatures rechecked, and every other cubicle remains empty to practice social distancing.

At the four-hour mark of a shift, Berg said everyone wipes their keyboard, phones and other items at their working stations. The process repeats four hours later.

“We wash our hands constantly and have hand sanitizer,” he said. “We are taking as much precaution as we can to make sure no one comes down with the coronavirus in the emergency operations center.”

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William J. Ford – Washington Informer Staff Writer

I decided I wanted to become a better writer while attending Bowie State University and figured that writing for the school newspaper would help. I’m not sure how much it helped, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep on doing it, which I still thoroughly enjoy 20 years later. If I weren’t a journalist, I would coach youth basketball. Actually, I still play basketball, or at least try to play, once a week. My kryptonite is peanut butter. What makes me happy – seeing my son and two godchildren grow up. On the other hand, a bad call made by an official during a football or basketball game makes me throw up my hands and scream. Favorite foods include pancakes and scrambled eggs which I could eat 24-7. The strangest thing that’s ever happened to me, or more accurately the most painful, was when I was hit by a car on Lancaster Avenue in Philadelphia. If I had the power or money to change the world, I’d make sure everyone had three meals a day. And while I don’t have a motto or favorite quote, I continue to laugh which keeps me from driving myself crazy. You can reach me several ways: Twitter @jabariwill, Instagram will_iam.ford2281 or e-mail, wford@washingtoninformer.com

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