When Tony Lo Giudice took on his new role as Alamance County’s health director on Nov. 30, the position had been in flux for almost five months, coronavirus cases in the county were rising steadily and the daunting task of distributing a potential COVID-19 vaccine loomed. But ask him about his first two weeks on the job, and he’ll tell you the transition was “pretty seamless.”
“It’s been busy, as you can imagine,” he said. “Very COVID-19 heavy. But I have to say, it's such a wonderful, hard-working, passionate staff at Alamance County Health Department, so they have made the transition way seamless.”
When previous Health Director Stacie Saunders — who held the position since 2014 — left the department in July, Alexandria Rimmer, Alamance County’s environmental health specialist, assumed the role in the interim. According to Lo Giudice, his own prior experience in administration and public health and Rimmer’s guidance have been critical in smoothing the transition to his leadership.
Lo Giudice comes to Alamance County from Forsyth County, home to Winston-Salem, where he served for three years as the county’s assistant health director beginning in 2017. Forsyth County Health Director Joshua Swift, who joined the department in 2018, described Lo Giudice as a “servant leader” who, through his planning and administrative oversight of the department's operations, strived to serve his team and the people of Forsyth County.
“His energetic and upbeat attitude will be missed in Forsyth,” Swift said. “But I know his leadership ability and attitude will serve him well in Alamance.”
Prior to moving to North Carolina, Lo Giudice lived outside Phoenix, Arizona, where he gained experience in municipal government through roles including director of Mesa’s Community Care Healthcare Innovation Program.
Lo Giudice earned his bachelor's degree in political science from Arizona State University in 2004 and a master’s degree in government from Regent University in 2007. Additionally, he served for five years in the U.S. Navy, and after being honorably discharged, spent a decade in fire and rescue.
Lo Giudice is confident he can lead the Alamance County Health Department despite the added complications of the coronavirus pandemic, and because Forsyth and Alamance County health departments operate under similar incident command systems, he feels even more at home. The incident command management structure has become integral to both health departments as a part of their coronavirus responses.
“It’s basically a system in place that … gives us the ability to coordinate and communicate,” Lo Giudice said. “Not only internally amongst the organization, but externally with our external partners and management, local municipality and so on.”
The Alamance County Health Department’s incident command system is organized in a hierarchy with the health director and emergency management overseeing groups organizing more specific COVID-19 responses like testing, contact tracing and long-term care facility management.
“It was pretty easy for me to go from one command structure into the other,” Lo Giudice said, “Because the incident objectives, the goal was that we use [and] the mitigation strategies that we use to fight the spread of this virus are very similar.”
As of Dec. 23, Alamance County has reported 9,578 coronavirus cases and 116 deaths, according to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. With record breaking case numbers in December, as health director, Lo Giudice oversees the county’s responses and attempts to mitigate the virus, which have remained largely the same throughout the pandemic.
These include case investigation, contact tracing and enforcement of a close-contact quarantine period in addition to quarantining infected individuals. The health department has also focused heavily on educating Alamance County residents about the virus and how they can remain safe.
“The messaging will continue,” Lo Giudice said. “Continue to wear masks, continue to social distance, continue to disinfect surfaces, continue to wash your hands.”
Since Lo Giudice entered the position in late November, advancements regarding coronavirus vaccines have sent vaccine distribution to the top of the department’s priorities.
Since Dec. 2, five countries, including the United States, have approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. On Dec. 18, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine received its emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
Lo Giudice expects to receive shipments of the Moderna vaccine, as Moderna does not require ultra-cold storage and, thus, is more viable for smaller health departments. This was corroborated by Dr. Mandy Cohen, secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, in a Dec. 15 press conference.
In preparation for the vaccine, Lo Giudice and the Alamance County Health Department have spent weeks planning in accordance with information provided by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“That information changes daily, if not every couple of hours — especially last week, as the [Pfizer] authorization got approved,” he said. “So, we're taking all this in, digesting it, plugging it into our plans.”
Once the vaccine becomes available, Lo Giudice hopes Alamance County residents will receive their immunization when it is their time determined by North Carolina's vaccination rollout plan.
“As soon as our first shipment gets here, we can start getting some folks vaccinated,” he said. “When it’s your turn, get your vaccine.”