A Verona Area High School graduate has been working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wisconsin – to mitigate the spread and to keep the public safe and healthy.

COVID-19 was deemed a worldwide pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, by the World Health Organization. The state Department of Health Services confirmed Monday, March 16, Wisconsin cases have reached at least 33, with six in Dane County.

But Karri Bartlett, who grew up in Verona, is looking to bring that number to zero as the Public Health Supervisor for Public Health Madison and Dane County. She told the Press in an email it’s important to note the risk to the greater community remains low for now.

“Monitoring and controlling the spread of communicable disease is a core function for any health department,” Bartlett told the Press in an email Thursday about her day to day activities as supervisor. “What makes COVID-19 so different is that it is a novel disease … we do not have the public health tools in place to prevent people from getting sick or to treat those that do get the virus.”

The first cases of COVID-19 were seen in China in late 2019, and the disease has since spread internationally, affecting more than 129,000 people and killing over 4,500. The coronavirus family that causes the disease is also responsible for the common cold and respiratory syndromes such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Bartlett said her specific role is to lead all the work related to isolation, quarantine and contact investigation for people at risk to COVID-19 exposure or who have tested positive.

“I lead a large team of extremely talented public health staff that are highly skilled in handling such outbreaks,” Bartlett said.

In addition to helping curb the outbreak, Bartlett said she manages the sexual health and needle exchange programs for PHMDC.

“Most of my job is providing leadership for the wonderful folks on the teams, but also program planning, evaluation and outbreak management,” she said.

Bartlett said public health work can be challenging, as it is often an underfunded field.

“Most people don’t pay attention to it until there is a crisis, like an outbreak,’’ she said.

She advised that with the spread of COVID-19, the people shouldn’t panic but instead plan and exercise precautions like washing their hands and limiting large social gatherings.

Bartlett’s interest in helping people stay healthy started when she attended VAHS, she said.

In addition to being on the swim team and playing in the high school band, she recalled a science teacher who shared various stories about his time in the Peace Corps serving in Africa.

This inspired Bartlett to join the corps in college as a community health volunteer in a remote village in Zambia.

“This experience shifted my career goals from physician to public health because I saw the importance of preventative medicine and global health,” she said.

She said her Peace Corps experience pushed her to get a master’s degree and later obtain a job as a clinic manager at Planned Parenthood.

In 2008, she started at PHMDC and has been there ever since, Bartlett said.

“I enjoy working in a field that has significant value to individuals as well as the broader community,” she said.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.