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Five Ways Pandemic Management is Like a Game of Chess

During a recent meeting to talk about articles for this month’s PubSEG newsletter, it was revealed that Vice President of Operations Dawn Stolte and Technology Associate Chase Kelly are both avid chess players. 

That immediately led to two very important questions: 

1. Who would win in a match between Dawn and Chase? 

2. Is it possible to compare PubSEG’s pandemic management efforts to strategies employed in a game of chess? 

The answer to the first question is to be determined (but we can’t wait to find out!).  

The answer to the second question is, absolutely. 

The PubSEG team is always looking for the most effective ways to keep our clients and the communities they serve safe and healthy, just as chess players are always looking for new paths to victory. 

In honor of Dawn and Chase’s chess prowess, here are five ways PubSEG’s efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19 correspond with certain elements of the game:  

1. Thinking at least three steps ahead 

Predicting how future waves of COVID-19 will affect different parts of the country isn’t easy. Navigating the torrent of variants that have emerged since the original strain, including the recent surge in cases due to the highly transmissive BA.5 omicron subvariant, has been an ongoing challenge for health officials. 

But while it’s impossible to know exactly what COVID will look like in the long term, the right strategic planning in the short term can ensure you’re prepared for multiple scenarios. Just as a great chess player would never make a move without anticipating their opponent’s next move (and the next few moves after that), PubSEG is always thinking ahead. 

“You can’t just be thinking about the here and now,” Dawn says. “You’ve always got to be thinking, ‘what happens if I do this’ and how it might affect things two months, four months, six months from now.” 

In the words of British chess prodigy Luke McShane, “Grand plans are overrated, but modest plans are indispensable.” The same could apply to contact tracing. What makes sense today might not make sense six months from now, but having a plan in place in the meantime is critical. 

2. Putting people in the right places    

Chess pieces always start out in the same squares, but they don’t stay there for long. Knowing where and when to maneuver the pieces and putting them in the best strategic locations is essential to victory. 

The same is true at PubSEG. Just because our employees start out in certain roles doesn’t mean they’ll stay there forever. In fact, PubSEG constantly provides opportunity for growth and rewards hard-working employees with elevated roles that best match their talents. Many of our supervisors and lead contact tracers started out as contact tracers, and these promotions benefit both our internal organization and the clients we serve.  

3. Only moving in the ways you’re allowed 

Chess would obviously be a very different game if you could move your pieces anywhere you wanted. Instead, each piece’s movement is governed by very specific rules that limit exactly where they can travel on the board. No two pieces can be treated the same. 

This is also true in contract tracing. Each school or municipality we partner with follows their own set of guidelines, laws, and protocols, some developed internally and some mandated by state or county governments. And while some policies are the same across the board (HIPAA regulations for example), others can vary widely from school to school or state to state. What’s perfectly acceptable for one program might be taboo for another. 

Before PubSEG begins any program with a new client, we take plenty of time to learn their specific protocols.  

4. Working as a team 

Ask any member of the PubSEG organization, and they’ll rave about what a welcoming and supportive environment it is. Everybody has each other’s backs. As Reporting and Workforce Manager Jenn Burke puts it: “We truly work together as a team and celebrate each other’s successes.” 

In chess, it also helps to have all your pieces working together. You can try to focus on two or three pieces at a time, but it’s unlikely you’ll get very far. A blog post on The Chess Journal website explains it this way: “All your pieces should be used as a team, together. When working together, they are stronger … Each piece should be working with one another, complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.” 

Those comments were obviously written about chess, but they just as easily could have been used to describe PubSEG’s day-to-day philosophy. PubSEG shares its core values with our parent company, VSA, including, “We build up a workplace that is motivating, supportive, and fun.” 

“People are looking for a good work environment, and the culture here is better than just about any other culture out there,” Dawn says. “We’re always looking for ways we can better support each other.”    

5. Sacrificing for the greater good 

Often, chess players will intentionally give up a piece if it means putting themselves in better position for the victory. 

We can relate. At PubSEG, we sometimes have to scrap our best laid plans for the overall success of a client’s program. Sudden rises or falls in case numbers, changing government recommendations, the arrival of new variants, and other unexpected variables often require us to pivot on the fly, even if it means sacrificing a strategy we’d already developed. 

“Sometimes, we do have to sacrifice plans for the greater good of the client,” says Director of Client Onboarding Ira Lawson. “Just like in chess, we’ve got to be strategically flexible.” 


Perhaps the biggest similarity between PubSEG and chess comes down to two words: problem solving. In chess, as in pandemic management, there are always new obstacles to face and new strategies required to get past them.       

Whether we’re performing contact tracing, documenting vaccination information, verifying exemptions, making vaccine and booster reminder calls, or taking any other steps to limit the spread of the virus, we’re always looking to make a difference for our clients.  

If you’d like to learn more about PubSEG—or maybe just want to challenge us to a game of chess—give us a call at 856-240-8117 or email contact@pubseg.com. We’d love to see how we can help.