Jones-Harrison infection preventionist: ‘We’ve never seen anything like this’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are conducted over the phone, and conversations are edited for length and clarity.

Barb Joyce, infection preventionist, Jones-Harrison senior living 

I’ve been a registered nurse for 28 years now. My job duty is to monitor the infectious process, especially those who are most contagious and prevent transmission to prevent illness. There are measures we can do to make our communal environment safer from spreading pathogens.

The Minnesota Department of Health helps us to prepare for what our threats might be. We had the H1N1 that we prepared for and we monitored Ebola to see how it would affect our community.

But this is new for us. We’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve never experienced this level before. Regular influenza is a problem every year for our community, and we’ve been dealing with that since the beginning of time. We know how to set up the program, we know how to vaccinate and we know how to treat once it gets in the door. We know what to do, we know how to break the transmission. But the coronavirus is evolving rapidly, it’s deadly and it doesn’t have a treatment for it like most diseases.

My heart goes out to Kirkland [the Seattle-area nursing home overrun by COVID-19] because they got hit first. We are benefitting from lessons we’ve learned from that event greatly, so I hope they know the nation is with them.

We’ve learned from Kirkland to stop it at the doors. We’re taking the temperatures of our staff as they walk in. We’re screening them for illness and their travel. We’ve closed to non-essential visitation and screened to vendors who have to come into our building. Those are some of the measures we’ve implemented.

The mood inside the facility is pretty calm. We haven’t had any residents sick yet. Dealing with outbreaks is a lot of work. We understand why we’re doing it, but it’s taxing, it’s fatiguing, it’s tired. And yet, at the same time, the calmness and the right thing to do supersedes that fatigue. Everyone’s working on hyperspeed because the more we prepare, the better off we are going to be in the long run.

I’m older, so I don’t have young children at home. This would be different if I had people who depend on me at home. I am at a position where I can work long hours without it affecting others. The leadership of the facility is committed to keeping this community safe, and I feel blessed. I would rather be here than not be here.

I feel like this is something I’ve been training for and now it’s here, so part of me says, “This is it, this is the big hurrah, so let’s engage.” We’ve heard and heard and heard all these things that could go wrong and don’t go wrong and now we’re in the position where we’re here. I run on adrenaline. I derive meaning from it.

In no circumstances would I say this makes me happy. But with that said, I feel glad I’m in this moment, in this office, today, working this plan.