Public Health director to win Woman of the Year for handling of COVID-19
Even before the first case of COVID-19 was detected in California last March, Santa Barbara County’s Public Health Department was already working behind the scenes, monitoring the pandemic as it developed from the first case in China in December 2019.
That was 14 months ago. And when the pandemic began spreading in Santa Barbara County, the Public Health Department took center stage in coordinating the county’s response under the leadership of a powerful woman at the helm.
Her name is Dr. Van Do-Reynoso.
In the past year, Dr. Do-Reynoso, the director of the county’s Public Health Department, has led the county through an ongoing crisis that has impacted the lives of every single person across the state. Her 12-to-15 hour daily shifts consist of coordinating response efforts, mitigating community needs, briefing elected officials, monitoring information from the state and meeting with her core team.
The days are intense and the hours are long, but Dr. Do-Reynoso’s tireless work has not gone unnoticed.
The public health director is set to receive the California Assembly’s Woman of the Year Award for the 37th Assembly District in April.
Even after an unprecedented and exhausting year, Dr. Do-Reynoso looks back on the pandemic year with a profound sense of optimism, calling it “incredible.” She noted that the pandemic exposed the strengths of partnerships between the county and the community.
And she said that pulling on these partnerships created an effective response.
“It’s been a rewarding year, it’s been a grueling year, and also it’s been a growing year too in that, through working under such intense conditions and responding to such intense critical needs, we’ve grown as a department,” Dr. Do-Reynoso told the News-Press.
As an expert in public health, Dr. Do-Reynoso is a leading spokesperson in the Public Health Department, especially during the pandemic. During the COVID-19 crisis, she has been the one that county officials seek for guidance on case totals, vaccine distribution and state regulations.
It is for her leadership during this unprecedented time that the state Assembly is rewarding her work with a prestigious award.
“I was humbled, I was floored, I was ecstatic, I was jumping up and down,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said of her response when she heard about winning the award. “And the reason why (is because) I felt it was a huge honor for my whole public health team. I felt it was incredible validation and encouragement of the public health team and our response efforts this past 14 months.”
The award is yet another validation of what Dr. Do-Reynoso discovered in her college days.
Public health is where she’s meant to shine.
As an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, Dr. Do-Reynoso toyed with the idea of going to medical school before discovering public health. Though she was a pre-med major, an influential professor encouraged her to consider public health because it would give her a vessel to combine her passion for both health and policy.
“It’s oftentimes that you have that mentor, and you’re at the crossroads that you make a decision that forever influences the course of your career,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
After some thought, she decided to pursue public health the rest of her college career. And she has never looked back.
This shift in her studies launched Dr. Do-Reynoso on a path that would eventually lead her to Santa Barbara.
She went on to receive her master’s in public health from UC Berkeley and her doctorate at UC Merced.
While pursuing her master’s degree, she began her career in public health at a community health center in Oakland. After this, she spent five years at an orphanage in Mexico building a sanitation system, which provided clean drinking water for the children and orphanage staff.
Dr. Do-Reynoso then worked as a health director in Madera County for a decade before assuming her role in 2017 as the director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
She said the health department offered her the chance to work in a “very complex environment,” where she would be able to oversee various realms of public health, such as homelessness, animal services, environmental health and emergency services all underneath one overarching department.
All of these experiences brought Dr. Do-Reynoso to where she is today — leading the county’s response against COVID-19.
“I just see work experiences and life experiences as (being) all unique and they all shape, and they all contribute to my development as a professional,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
Being the county’s point person for all things COVID-19 is rewarding, but it did not come without its sacrifices, Dr. Do-Reynoso said. Her days start early and end late, which leaves little time for her husband, Gabriel, and her daughters.
Dr. Do-Reynoso’s youngest daughter, Sarah, is currently a junior at Dos Pueblos High School; her middle daughter, Bethany, is a senior at Sacramento State; and her oldest daughter, Rebecca, is a licensed clinician at Veterans Affairs in Michigan.
Though her days are hectic, Dr. Do-Reynoso said she always starts her day with her family and makes time to sit down with them for dinner each night. The support of her family, as well as her faith, is what has kept her grounded during this crisis, Dr. Do-Reynoso said.
She added that the family takes time to go to church together on Sunday’s in addition to their daily dinners.
With the pandemic requiring an all-out response, Dr. Do-Reynoso’s sacrifices are the same as those that have been made across the board by health officials, doctors and nurses to initiate an effective COVID-19 response.
“That’s the cost I don’t think a lot of people realize,” Dr. Do-Reynoso said. “In order for us to be so responsive to our community, I have a group of anywhere from 30 to 50 people that have been doing this for 14 months at least, that have made the same sacrifice and their families have also made the same sacrifice. We do this because we are deeply committed to our community and deeply committed to mitigating the spread of COVID-19.”