MISSOULA — We have talked a lot about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives, our schools and those on the front lines of this endless situation.
But there is another group that's been grinding out 12-hour days, missing family time and taking a lot of the heat from frustrated and frightened people.
The people working at the Missoula City-County Health Department COVID-19 testing center on Flynn Lane gear up each day and ready for battle.
They greet cars of people who need to know if they have contracted coronavirus and are gentle in their instruction -- but firm in their belief that what they’re doing is vital to keeping Missoula safe and informed.
There could be upwards of 100 people tested each at the drive-thru testing site which is run by health care professionals who know how important the service is -- even as it comes with a personal price.
"Since August third I’ve maybe had a few days off, and that includes Saturdays and Sundays. So, I don’t see my family very much,” observed Patient Services Group Supervisor Nicole Lamoreux.
She, like others, puts in multiple 12 hours days a week – something that’s not uncommon in the medical field.
But these are extraordinary times, and the testing center has become more than just a second home -- it's also a place where co-workers are a second family.
“We all rely on one another. We have a lot of meetings throughout the day to talk about issues and how we can make things better," Lamoreux said.
"Sometimes we just have to talk to one another and get it out because we’re so stressed a lot of the time just trying to keep up with the demands of this disease," Lamoreux continued.
When things get stressful or they are on the receiving end of an angry caller, they support each other through it, knowing the work they do is worth it.
They act as a team, helping sometimes panicked people through the COVID-19 testing process, explaining over and over again how to schedule a test -- and yes, sometimes taking the brunt of fear and abuse from an angry caller.
But even in a situation where many are on edge, they remain a team.
“We try and hold each other up the best we can and keep ourselves mentally and physically ready to do the job. It feels like it waxes and wanes,” Testing Branch Director Rebecca Wallace explained.
“Just about when you think you’re at the point where you’re under control and it’s at a point you can manage, something else happens or changes or a new situation emerges that knocks you off-kilter, so it is hard to not fight off the stress,” Wallace added.
What keeps them going day after day, month after month? The knowledge thatt all of this – the stress, the long hours, time away from home -- maters to the people of Missoula.
“I feel a duty to help Missoula County and [keeping] the health and safety of our community going strong. Just be patient with us. Just be patient. We’re growing and constantly evolving to meet the needs of this pandemic,” Lamoreux concluded.
A vaccine is imminent but won’t end the pandemic right away so the Missoula team remains vigilant to protect your health as well as their own.