Stephanie Brown, Longstreet Clinic’s lab manager, keeps a brave face in front of her patients.
Each work day she swabs dozens of people of all ages for COVID-19. Despite the perpetual fear surrounding her patients, Brown said she dare not crack under the pressure.
“A lot of it, you put on a front for your patient,” she said. “If we show fear, then patients will feel that too. They just want someone to tell them that we’re going to get through this.”
Brown starts her mornings by putting a medical gown over her scrubs, equipping both a face shield and N95 mask and donning her staple, bright-pink gloves.
Standing outside at Longstreet’s drive-thru COVID-19 testing shelter, Brown swabs patients, answers their questions, offers educational materials and takes notes about people’s conditions. To keep the sample taking consistent, Brown swabs patients with one other staff member.
“I feel like it’s effective as long as I get a good swab,” Brown said. “The result that is produced is only as good as the sample collected.”
Brown, who has worked at Longstreet for nearly 24 years, throws herself into the frontlines of the pandemic from 6:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. Since the first time Longstreet Clinic started gathering samples, Brown said the volume has continued to grow. On Wednesday, April 29, she swabbed 49 people. Her patients have ranged from four months old to senior citizens.
Brown said she’ll never forget her first COVID-19 positive patient.
“He’s still in quarantine,” she said. “The day I swabbed him, he was nice and so thankful. I swabbed him and called his provider. I said, ‘He’s going to be my first positive.’ And he was.”
If she’s extremely concerned about a particular patient, Brown said she keeps track of whether or not they tested positive. Because of privacy protection laws, she isn't able to get the full report of a patient. But, she can at least find out whether or not the person is recovering.
“I just want to know if they’re getting better,” Brown said. “When this is over, I just want to see you well. You don’t have to come back and do anything, but just tell me that you’re better.”
At the end of the day, Brown returns home to her husband and dog. Before entering the home, she undresses out of her medical attire and throws them into a washing machine. To keep her shoes from human contact, she places them in a bag and sprays them with Lysol in the morning.
Since she started testing patients for COVID-19 in early March, Brown has only been in contact with her husband and has ordered all of her groceries for delivery. The only time she has ventured into the public, not including her workplace, was for Sam’s Club’s “Heroes Hours,” which offers first-responders and health care workers time to shop at the store.
Brown won’t let anyone beside her husband enter her house, not even her step daughter.
“When I’m at work, I’m protected and I want to protect my coworkers when I go back,” she said. “When I leave here, I protect myself because I don’t want to bring it back to you guys every day. My family understands that.”
Through seeing the need in Northeast Georgia for more testing locations, Brown said she wants Longstreet Clinic to expand its services into testing. Right now she said the medical group sends its samples predominately to LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics laboratories. The turnaround time to retrieve test results takes around two days, which she said is a vast improvement compared to the around 10 day time when the outbreak first hit Georgia.
“I wish and I hope that it’s coming for the future of Longstreet that if we ever approach this again, we will be able to offer it to our patients,” Brown said.
Instead of keeping track of the death and case numbers for COVID-19 in Georgia, Brown said she recently turned away from the TV and decided to focus more on helping patients.
Each day she reminds herself that “tomorrow is going to be better,” and pushes through the negativity of the outbreak.
“You’ve got to have hope,” Brown said. “Letting patients know that we are there. I do find there is hope for tomorrow. We’ve gone through a lot in this country.”