Published: May 27, 2021
Dr. Diana Cervantes has spent the last year keeping people informed and updated on all things coronavirus, and now she’s being recognized as one of Fort Worth Inc.’s “400 Most Influential People” for helping protect the community’s health during the pandemic.
Dr. Cervantes is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate studies program in Epidemiology at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth (HSC) School of Public Health (SPH).
She will be honored along with other award recipients at an upcoming Fort Worth Inc. 2021 Person of the Year reception.
Over the last year, Dr. Cervantes has given countless media interviews on TV, radio and online to answer some of the public’s top questions on COVID-19.
In the pandemic’s early days, and during other peak times as COVID cases resurged at different points in 2020, up through release of the COVID vaccines, it wasn’t at all unusual for Dr. Cervantes to take 3 to 4 calls from different reporters each day.
She’s became a familiar face across North Texas, reassuring the community and advising on ways to stay safe during a public health crisis that most people today had never before experienced in their lifetimes.
“Very little was known about the virus at first, so people wanted help in sorting through the precautions and ways of protecting themselves and their families,” Dr. Cervantes said. “Anytime pandemic restrictions went into place or were lifted, or as we approached holidays, seasonal events, closures and cancellations, there were more questions.”
What were some of most common questions she received?
“How long is this going to last … when can we get back to normal – those were the big ones. Along the way, I’ve tried to advise that we may never go back to exactly the way things were before. While this virus can definitely be reduced, it may always be with us in some form, just like other viruses we’ve learned to manage over time,” she said.
In addition to media interviews in both English and Spanish, Dr. Cervantes engaged in community outreach with Tarrant County Public Health, long-term care facilities, nursing homes and area hospitals’ infection prevention contacts.
She spoke at town halls in cities around North Texas and provided vaccine education to local counties and schools.
She joined Mayor Betsy Price for Facebook Live pandemic information sessions.
She even teamed with a movie historian from the Austin-based Bullock Texas State History Museum for a presentation on outbreaks, how they are portrayed in movies and what is actually real.
Finding balance during the pandemic has been a challenge for everyone. For Dr. Cervantes, the professional priorities of teaching HSC graduate classes, mentoring students, serving the university and collaborating with SPH community partners on ongoing projects and activities have remained a big part of her days.
It also takes time to gather information and stay up to date through changing circumstances like those presented by COVID-19.
Dr. Cervantes closely follows CDC updates, state and local guidance and the work of other epidemiologists in the field. She follows research publications, public health podcasts and related social media.
She’s also interested in seeing how the public responds, for insight into people’s questions, what they consider most important and where she can fill in the gaps.
She’s been surprised by neighbors who have seen her on TV and stop to say thank you for the down-to-earth information she’s provided during the pandemic.
“It was really humbling and heartwarming to recently walk into my hair salon for the first time in a while and get a standing ovation. I just try to give the best information possible in a balanced, positive way,” she said.
Dr. Cervantes has also been inspired by potential students who have reached out with an interest in public health careers, and the way that COVID-19 efforts have broadened awareness of public health, science communications and how they come together to solve problems and serve the community.
“It’s a really exciting outcome that so many fresh, young minds now have an interest in studying public health and taking the field to a whole new level,” she said.
One of her biggest fans has always been her mother. As immigrants from Mexico many years ago, her parents were proud to see their children grow up and become a part of caring for their communities in Texas.
“The rest of my family is proud too,” she laughed, “but also a little amused that other people really want to hear the things I tell them at home all the time.”