Embedded: A first-person account of COVID-19 testing in Eastern Washington

By Lee Roy Esposo, class of 2021

Lee Roy Esposo poses with fellow WSU student volunteers at the drive-thru testing site at the Spokane County Interstate Fairgrounds, one of two test sites in eastern Washington.

Last week the Spokane Regional Health District along with Spokane Medical Reserve Corps set up a drive-thru testing site for COVID-19 at the Spokane County Interstate Fairgrounds. This is one of two testing sites in eastern Washington. Individuals who are concerned that they may have contracted the virus are able to drive down and be evaluated by medical personnel. Medical staff working on site hail from multiple healthcare systems like, Spokane Regional Health, Providence, CHAS, and more.

In mid-March as cities across the nation were looking for ways to ramp up COVID-19 testing, I received an email requesting volunteers to help with the efforts at the testing site. Several WSU pharmacy students were there to answer the call, including third year Doctor of Pharmacy students Michelle Baek, Jennifer Tu, and I. Duties ranged from directing traffic, running forms to and from the Incident Command Center, and conducting the initial intake.

The screening process moved fairly quickly. After the initial intake, medical professionals evaluate individuals to determine whether a test is appropriate. If appropriate nasopharyngeal samples are taken and sent to the lab. The test itself can be uncomfortable. I know this from experience. As a pharmacy student, we train in point of care tests, like the one used in the COVID-19 testing.

Third year WSU pharmacy student, Lee Roy Esposo, was one of the first student volunteers at the Spokane COVID-19 drive-thru test site when it opened last week.

My job was to assist with the initial intake and get the necessary demographic information from patients. I also helped to onboard and train new volunteers. When people come up for screening, they have all sorts of questions. There were a variety of people driving through. Family members were driving their loved ones. Parents were there with their children. People who thought they were at risk or had orders from their physicians were also coming through.

People were understandably scared. Some were upset and in tears, concerned that they had the disease. I did my best to comfort them and communicate the testing process to ease their anxiety. Many were grateful that volunteers and health care workers were out there willing to be on the frontlines of this crisis to help them.

When I signed up to be a volunteer, I knew what I was getting into and that I could potentially be exposed to COVID-19. We were provided with PPE (personal protective equipment) and you have to trust in your PPE. I got into health care because I wanted to help people, not just as a pharmacist, but as a person who wants to protect the health of his community. I have the ability to positively impact a lot of lives because of my training and studies. If anything, it’s given me more drive and reason to be the best clinician I can be.

The concern of contracting COVID-19 is always there, but part of being essential personnel means we have to be there. I trust in my PPE to give me the best chance at protection and the availability of PPE is at the back of everyone’s minds at the site. I know that I’m not invincible. We understand the risks, but we do it because this is what we signed up to do.

My path to a career in health care is long and convoluted. I’m older than the average pharmacy student, but one thing has not changed in pursuit of this career: I want to help people. I want to give people peace of mind. My own mother hasn’t been thrilled about the idea of me being in the frontline of this war on COVID-19. Police, firefighters, and other first responders run toward danger. Healthcare providers like myself embrace the sick with open arms.

Seeing the community come together during this crisis gives me the faith to believe that we will come out of this stronger. The interprofessional collaboration from all those who were volunteering shows that, together, we can and will overcome this trying period in our lives.

As a healthcare provider, it’s a sacred duty to help others. Whether it’s directing traffic, helping someone fill out an intake form, or even offering kind words of support. Small contributions like this can have the biggest impact in someone’s life.

For those who are interested, screening is available at the Spokane County Interstate Fairgrounds Monday through Friday, 10 am to 5 pm and from 10 am to 3 pm on Saturday and Sunday.

Remember to take care of each other, help when you can, and remember to wash your hands.

Lee Roy Esposo is a third year Doctor of Pharmacy student at the WSU College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Esposo plans to continue to volunteer his time at the Spokane Interstate County Fairgrounds during his free time.