Since retiring from Durham County EMS in 2016, Kevin Wilson ’72 has consulted with that department and with the county on a contract basis. It’s kept him busy enough: He’s there to answer any questions related to infectious diseases, and he teaches classes for EMS, medical practices, hospitals, fire departments and law enforcement.
“I kind of just jumped back in with both feet,” he says. “If I had to come home and sit and do nothing, I would have been gone probably in 10 days or less. I’m just used to going and going.”
Well, he got his wish last winter when the coronavirus hit the United States. For several weeks, starting in February, Wilson was going and going and going, without really going anywhere. Sitting at his “operational center” (his dining-room table), Wilson pored over emails and articles and journals, jotting down notes and typing up memos, briefings and summaries designed to keep emergency medical personnel as up-to-date as possible with the coronavirus.
Wilson thoroughly red every memo and press release from the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, the University of Minnesota and many other leading medical outfits, boiling down the latest findings into something succinct and easily understood.
Last week, for example, he read a study showing an increase in strokes among young people with Covid-19. He packaged the information and sent it on to local hospitals in Durham, whose nurses and doctors then used it to determine whether to prescribe blood thinners to Covid-19 patients.
Wilson knows that, were he still a full-time member of Durham EMS, he would have needed his own Kevin Wilson just to handle the flood of coronavirus-related information that was coming in. Early on, he received “hundreds and hundreds” of emails every day. Because of his history as an infection preventionist, Wilson regularly receives emails from several groups, and they bombarded him with information in January and February.
“I would not have the time to look at the volume of material that I’ve been looking at,” he said back in April. “It would be impossible.”
In late January, February and March, Wilson spent most of his waking hours at his command center, equipped with a couple of computers and a big-screen TV that served as a monitor. If he wasn’t reading the latest studies he was answering questions from EMS, law enforcement and the “three- and four-letter federal agencies.”
“For weeks I was spending eight to 12 hours a day doing COVID stuff: reading, talking with folks on webinar, videoconferencing with folks about what to do and just discussing where we’re at, what our options are,” Wilson says. “A lot of us bounced ideas off each other: What do you think about doing this? How does this impact us?
“I’ve answered 8 zillion questions and sent out 8 zillion emails giving folks the signs and symptoms of colds versus allergies versus Covid. That’s really been a big part of it.”
Wilson advised police squad leaders about officers who have a cough, and about the need for quarantines. “One of the other big questions is droplets versus airborne,” he says. “If I had a dollar for every time I have discussed that, I would probably be up there with Bill Gates.”
Finding his place
Wilson enjoys reading and learning now, but he was an indifferent high school student. It took a local pastor’s pleas to get Wingate to consider accepting him back in 1970. Once in college, though, Wilson proved to be an eager student, going on to earn a psychology degree from Campbell College and working on a master of divinity in pastoral care and theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (the program was disbanded after a year and a half, leading Wilson to take the EMS job in Durham).
It took Wingate to get him started on that path. “I loved Wingate,” says Wilson, who has served on the University’s Board of Visitors for several years. “I’ve got fond memories.”
While at Campbell, Wilson earned his basic EMT certification, and during his seminary days he served on the rescue squad for the town of Wake Forest. A friend told him about an opening with Durham EMS, saying, “This is where I think the Lord might want you to be.”
He must have been right, because Wilson stayed with Durham EMS for just over 40 years, working his way up from basic EMT to education coordinator and infection preventionist.
Even when he’d climbed the department ladder and his primary duties were teaching- and management-related, Wilson couldn’t help but answer EMS calls. He drove a fully equipped SUV and would show up on calls asking, “How can I help?”
“I was always one to believe that it was better to be out there with the people than it was to drive policy from sitting in the ivory tower,” Wilson says. “I really spent more time out of the office than I did in the office, because a lot of times it provided good teaching opportunities. I tried to teach through interaction versus a memo.”
That type of attitude endeared Wilson to his colleagues, and in the midst of the pandemic they trusted his judgment and his advice. They remembered how helpful he was in the field, and how much they leaned on his knowledge during the Ebola scare a few years back. They knew how officer- and medic-centric he remained.
“It’s been fun,” he says. “The nice thing about this, it’s not been a real pain, because it’s something I love doing.”