Nurse Renee Turner suiting up for COVID-19 testing duty.

Renee Turner usually spends her working days as a school nurse in Manatee County, but officially she’s an employee of the county’s health department. So when COVID-19 testing took place for four days at the end of March at a drive-through site at the Bradenton Area Convention Center, she was there to help as 50 patients a day were swabbed with a nasopharyngeal swab and specimens were sent to the lab for results. Here’s what she told us about those days.

“The people we saw were there by appointment only; they had to call their physicians to get the prescription and then call to make an appointment. When they pulled up in their cars—and a lot of people drove themselves there—we would hold up signs to ask them to turn off their AC and also to hold up their prescriptions so we could see them. Then we could swab them.

“It’s pretty uncomfortable being swabbed, because you have to get the swab pretty far back and hold it there for a few seconds. We’d ask the person to put their head back on the car headrest.

“We worked in teams of two: one to do the swab and the other to put it in a vial and prepare it to send to the state lab. No matter which part we were doing, we were all equipped with booties, gowns, shields, face masks. We did four hours at a time, and it was hot out there in the sun. The police department was there to help people navigate.

“We saw people of all ages—1-year-olds, teenagers, people in their 30s, 40s, 50, 60s—everybody. Many of them looked visibly unwell, with skin pallor and clamminess, and there was a lot of coughing. We would give them each a tissue to cover their faces after the swabbing, because that could trigger a cough. Most of the people expressed gratitude; there were a lot of tears, actually. And they were concerned for us and our safety.

“I didn’t have concerns for my own safety. And my kids [19 and 16] weren’t worried. When I got home, I’d go in the garage, strip everything off and go hop in the shower. It didn’t faze them a bit; they’re considering careers in health, too.

“Although we couldn’t comfort people physically as we usually might, I think we provided emotional support, and information. People find comfort in correct information, and having a conversation with someone who is concerned and empathetic. That’s fundamentally about connecting at a human level.

“Now that the testing is over [more testing kits are due any day, and testing will resume perhaps as early as later this week], what I’m doing is calling all the COVID-positive individuals to track their health status and provide them with the resources we can. This is a ‘novel’ virus; it’s new, so the more info we glean about it, the better we’re all going to be. There’s a lot of fear out there, understandably so, and the information is so important.

“If I hadn’t been chosen to do the testing, I would have volunteered anyway, as others did. I wasn’t fearful. This is the whole reason for working in public health, and it’s purposeful to me. It’s been phenomenal to see how cohesive the community has been as a whole.”

Turner, fitted with her N95 mask, prior to duty in March at the drive-through testing site.

 

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