Life as a COVID-19 Screener

covid-19 screener

An Adventure I Never Saw Coming

by Jacqueline Tosolini, RCP

Where do I start? When 2020 arrived, we were all looking forward to another fabulous year. In late January we started to hear reports from around the world about a dangerous virus, but we were fortunate that it had not yet found its way to our shores. Like everyone else, I filed this information a rarely visited corner of my brain for safekeeping. Life went on.

I work in a pulmonary rehabilitation clinic in Torrance, CA and we continued our work as normal providing therapy to patients to help recover from hospitalizations, reduce shortness-of-breath, and increase exercise capacity. On the morning of March 18th, we received word that we must close our doors immediately due to the risks posed by COVID-19. Just like all gyms and sports centers we shut our doors because we could not control the risk of spreading respiratory droplets inside our facility. Our fears were even more heightened because we work with very fragile and elderly, patients with lung disease: exactly those people who are most likely to have a severe reaction to COVID-19.

Two days later, on March 20th, the Governor of California put a “stay at home order” into effect. So, like everyone else, we hunkered down and wondered what the evolving situation would bring us next.

I found out on April 3rd. We were told we may be redeployed somewhere else to help during this pandemic, and the news came that we would help at a COVID-19 testing center, screening patients for potential infection, and public health officials were seeking anyone with some healthcare experience to administer COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab tests. We were needed seven days a week, eight hours a day. What began as a one- or two-week assignment lasted well into June. For the LA County Fire Department, Lifeguards, and Beach City Health District personal it was all hands to the pumps to help keep our community safe and to “flatten the curve” through an extensive testing program.

My work colleagues from our pulmonary rehabilitation clinic and I were stationed at a drive-through COVID-19 service based in the parking lot of a local shopping mall. We would see from 1 to 7 people in a car at a time. On our first day, we administered 170 tests. We were exhausted! The people we instructed were frightened. They were concerned about what might happen to them if they tested positive. Would they die? Would there be enough hospital beds or ventilators to help them, if they needed it? How could they avoid a severe reaction to the virus? Our team constantly had to reassure the people we tested, even though we didn’t know ourselves the answers to these questions.

We were all concerned about our own personal health. But we were provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and felt safe while instructing the patients. But there were so many scary stories about the disease, that it was hard not to be concerned.

There were so many obstacles to overcome. People would treat us as if we had the virus ourselves. Cars would draw up to us, roll down their window, and unload a spray of household disinfectant on us, before we could even say hello! Giving instructions for the swab test (which is not comfortable at the best of times), was especially hard for some: English was not everyone’s first language! The days were challenging but it was worth it. By the end of our assignment, we were administering as many as 400 tests a day.

On June 9th we all went back to our real jobs with our heads up high knowing we did our part to help out in the crisis. It was a sobering experience and one I shall always remember. COVID-19 is a great leveler. This experience reminded us that we’re all in this together, and everyone can play a part in helping to ease the pandemic. So please stay well my friends, keep your distance from those outside your household and, please, wear a mask.