Butler County Health Commissioner Jenny Bailer ’81 shares good news/bad news: Vaccines are “fairly effective” against the Delta variant, but people not vaccinated will serve as incubators for newer forms of the COVID-19 virus.
BY DONNA BOEN ’83, MTSC ’96, MIAMIAN EDITOR
The past year and a half has been filled with several surreal and bizarre moments, especially for Jenny Faris Bailer ’81, health commissioner for the Butler County (Ohio) Health District. Miami University is in that district.
If she had to choose one pivotal event, it would be when Butler County attracted national attention in January 2020 after testing two Miami students, making these Ohio’s first potential cases of COVID-19. Fortunately, after several tense days of waiting for the results, the students tested negative.
Bailer will never forget that first press conference when she stood with the director of the Ohio Department of Health and Miami University President Greg Crawford in front of a room chock-full of reporters and cameras.
Crawford also vividly recalls that first COVID press conference with Bailer, and the numerous meetings and press conferences with her that have followed. That is why he recently awarded her the President’s Medallion.
“Jenny’s leadership, focus and bravery during the pandemic have been invaluable to Miami University, the city of Oxford, Butler County and the state of Ohio,” Crawford said. “She is the epitome of a servant-leader, and I am so grateful to have had access to her expertise. She is a huge part of this community overcoming the pandemic. I’m honored to present her with the President’s Medallion.”
‘Tiny inkling’ invaluable
Two weeks before the first two potential cases made headlines, Bailer and her staff traveled to Miami’s Student Health Services to discuss what isolation and quarantine would look like, what was already in place and what needed to be added.
“I honestly had a tiny inkling that a case could appear here, and we took some proactive steps well ahead of time,” she said. “As we all watched the news and saw cases unfold in Wuhan, I was keenly aware that we could have students returning from that area and could have cases here.”
Health commissioner since 2016, she majored in psychology at Miami. She also earned degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wright State University and serves on Miami University’s Public Health Advisory Board.
Quick Q&A with Jenny
Q: We’ve taken off our masks, are enjoying the summer and are returning to stores, restaurants and offices. Are we being premature in assuming that life is returning to “normal”?
Jenny: I don’t think we should assume that life will be completely normal, but I do think the data supports the current return to normal behaviors at this time. I maintain a guarded optimism that we can continue on in this way. Ongoing surveillance of cases, hospitalizations and variants is occurring, and we know we need to keep a close eye on things. Certainly variants are looming, and we hope that vaccines cover them. It is the nature of viruses to mutate, and this one will likely be no different. I do wish that we had a higher percent of our people vaccinated. That would let me rest more easily.
Q: What are your thoughts regarding the Delta strain?
Jenny: Delta is more communicable and more virulent than the variants we already know about. No doubt there are additional variants mutating right now. The good news is that the current vaccines seem to be fairly effective against the Delta variant. The bad news is that not enough people are vaccinated so they don’t have that added protection, and they will serve as incubators for newer forms of the COVID virus.
Q: What has society learned from the pandemic that can help us in the future?
Jenny: Many, many, many new working relationships have been formed due to the COVID response. COVID brought together some unlikely partners. These positive relationships are being leveraged to help respond to and work on other issues that impact health in our communities. For example, public health has recently added some great partners to our work centered around decreasing the negative fallout of injection drug use.
Q: What have you learned about yourself as the health commissioner during the pandemic?
Jenny: Public health is my calling, and I love it. I love the work, I love the challenges, and I love the opportunities to help people on a very broad scale. But I learned during COVID that I do not love it 24/7, for months and months on end. COVID was too much of what I love, and I am more than ready for it to be done.