When COVID-19 began to emerge in South-Central Texas, folks in Bexar County turned to Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, MPH ’94, for guidance. Rohr-Allegrini after all, had both the experience and the background to interpret field reports as the virus began to spread.
Prior to taking on her current role as San Antonio Program Director for The Immunization Partnership, a non-profit dedicated to eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases, Rohr-Allegrini spent several years as an epidemiologist with San Antonio’s health department. There, she served as Pandemic Flu Coordinator in the Division of Public Health Emergency Preparedness, covering both the city of San Antonio and all of Bexar County (Pop. 2 million).
Rohr-Allegrini also served as the region’s Communicable Disease Program Manager and led investigations of the novel H1NI influenza virus (also a pandemic) when it hit the U.S. in 2009.
With her strong background in epidemiology and infectious disease, Rohr-Allegrini immediately began working to inform people of the seriousness of COVID-19, while also attempting to calm their fears of what was essentially an enormous unknown.
With a stint as a freelance health and science writer also on her resume, Rohr-Allegrini wrote articles explaining the epidemiology of COVID-19 and interpreting the data that was emerging locally and nationwide. As misinformation also emerged, Rohr-Allegrini, who also has a PhD in tropical diseases, moved quickly to combat it.
Her efforts landed her on San Antonio’s Public Health Transition Team, a group of public health professionals appointed by the mayor who were charged with creating a guide to eventually “re-open” San Antonio and Bexar County.
“Nearly everything I do is approached through the lens of the epidemiologist: observe, listen, ask, experiment, observe some more,” said Rohr-Allegrini. “I was “raised” by old school epidemiologists while a student at Yale SPH. Professors such as Drs. Robert Shope, Al Evans, Robert Tesh, Frank Black, Dorothy Horstmann, Mark Wilson and so many others taught me that epidemiology was in the field, among the people, places, and animals that were part of the transmission cycle.
“To study epidemiology was to seek to understand the entire picture,” Rohr-Allegrini continued. “They also taught me that being an epidemiologist at the beginning of an outbreak is like being MacGyver: we look at the tools that are available and rely on our knowledge to use them the best we can. Responding to COVID-19 has required all of us in public health to utilize every tool we have to slow the spread of this disease.”