Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityKnowing Nevada: The 'woman with answers' at the Washoe County Health District | KRNV
Close Alert

Knowing Nevada: The 'woman with answers' at the Washoe County Health District

Heather Kerwin
Heather Kerwin
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon

When we think about the frontlines of the pandemic we think of teachers, doctors, and nurses.

But there is also somebody looking at the bigger picture. Somebody looking at factors, frequencies, patterns -- somebody like Heather Kerwin who is very good with data.

I sat with Heather for an afternoon, a much calmer one than what I would have seen a year ago at the Washoe County Health District (WCHD).

Heather pointed to a Nevada State Public Health Lab data set as it transitioned from a radial graph to another graph showing clusters of infections.

Between two computer screens and lots of COVID-19 data, Heather commanded a team of epidemiologists as they navigated the pandemic trials in Washoe.

It did not take long for Heather to earn the title of "the Woman With Answers." James English, Environmental Health Specialist Supervisor for WCHD, was able to shed some light on how one gets a title like that:

There are many times that I would have a quick question and needed some data or information and before I could walk back to my desk it was already there. She put together needs, started tracking information globally, and started making projections on what was going to happen here in Washoe County and in the U.S. and in Nevada, and with that, we were able to build our response.

The path to Heather's infamous title actually started a lot like COVID did -- from all the way across the globe.

Heather said, "I actually had a vacation already planned when I had already accepted the position to go travel to Japan and the Philippines and I returned the very day before the CDC's emergency operations was stood up for the pandemic, I was getting emails while I was overseas, work emails, about this unidentified pneumonia cluster coming out of Wuhan, China."

That outta ruin an epidemiologist's vacation plans pretty quick, but not Heather's. I learned quickly that puzzles and patterns are her thing and it didn't take long for her to get into the game.

Heather pulled out her phone and immediately located a sequence of photos in her gallery from more than two years ago.

"There was a website based out of China at the time that was showing the case counts and it was one of the earliest case counting websites and I was taking screenshots every night -- just looking at these case counts climbing was kind of scary, " said Heather.

Then she returned to Washoe, built a team from the ground up, navigated challenges surrounding testing supply, community spikes, and vaccine rollout, and became the woman that everybody called.

It still happens to this day. As we sat down with Heather it was hard to keep her interest as other, and definitely more important tasks, arose and took her attention away -- it was clear to me that Heather was a major cog in the wheel.

According to English,

She's the only one I know that could be doing Teams, texting, and emails all at the same time... She could be on a ski slope and you could send her a text and I would always get a response. You might not get it immediately, but she was always in communication and wanted to help out.

So what makes a Heather a Heather? A person excited by complex numbers on a screen and clearly enjoys having a lot on her petri dish?

Here was her best guess, aside from sharing that she was an innately curious child constantly doing experiments and surveying her parents for toys she might be able to get, "Solving problems. I really like them, if there's a problem, whether that would be a data problem or an operational problem, logistical problem, I like to be able to provide solutions to those problems so they are not roadblocks in advancing whatever it is with the task at hand that needs to be taken care of."

Heather is just one of the amazing people that stepped up during the pandemic and her work will continue to protect against future health risks for Nevadans.

If you know a person or group of people that you think other Nevadans should be proud to know more about, please let us know by emailing or

Loading ...