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Thu, Oct. 22

VERDE VALLEY CORONAVIRUS HEROES: COVID-19 testing ‘uncomfortable’ but provides crucial answers

Jodi Fringer, medical assistant at Copper Canyon Family Health Center in Camp Verde, said one of the best things about her job since the COVID-19 pandemic has been telling patients that their test came up negative. VVN/Bill Helm

Jodi Fringer, medical assistant at Copper Canyon Family Health Center in Camp Verde, said one of the best things about her job since the COVID-19 pandemic has been telling patients that their test came up negative. VVN/Bill Helm

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Nicole McDaniel, a patient care tech at Verde Valley Medical Center, shows how much of a swab is inserted into the nose to collect a COVID-19 specimen. VVN/Bill Helm

VERDE VALLEY — “Hi, my name is Nicole. Have you ever had a nasal swab before? It will be a little uncomfortable.”

Nicole McDaniel, a patient care tech, and Laura Fayette, a nationally certified medical assistant, greet and educate anywhere from 15-30 patients on Mondays and Thursdays at Northern Arizona Healthcare as they prepare to collect a specimen that will determine whether the patient is COVID-19 positive.

Neither McDaniel nor Fayette were assigned the task of collecting COVID-19 specimens. Each was a volunteer.

“This is why we’re in the medical profession. To help people, to make a difference,” Fayette said.

Comfort through testing

Since late-March, Northern Arizona Healthcare has operated the COVID-19 specimen collection site on the grounds of its Verde Valley Medical Center.

According to Fayette, the majority of the patients who come to Northern Arizona Healthcare to be tested for COVID-19 “are at peace.”

“They just want to know,” Fayette said.

Communication is important when she collects a patient’s specimen, Fayette said. “You tell them what you’re doing, what happens after the test.”

Working with Fayette, McDaniel said it’s “comforting for us that we can help them feel more at ease.”

“As healthcare workers, we know this is part of the job,” McDaniel said. “If giving the test will give them comfort, then I’m happy for that.”

McDaniel said that if she was the one being tested for COVID-19, “I’d want someone to comfort me and explain things to me”

“I look at it as how would I want to be treated if I was the patient,” McDaniel said.

Specimen collection - swab

About three to four inches deep, that’s how far a swab goes into the patient to collect a COVID-19 specimen, McDaniel said.

As she prepares to collect the specimen, Fayette recommends the patient tilts the head back “so it will be less uncomfortable.”

“Your eyes will water a little,” Fayette said. “Your natural reaction is to sneeze or pull your head backwards.”

Once the specimen has been collected, the healthcare workers give their patient a tissue.

This test, the process to collect a COVID-19 specimen, is the “same procedure as testing for the flu,” Fayette said. “The less stress you feel as a patient, the easier we can do this.”

No positive COVID-19 tests at Copper Canyon Family Health Center

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Jodi Fringer has tested close to 20 patients for the coronavirus. Each of those patients’ tests came up negative.

“Most have had a general concern for themselves, but also for their family members,” said Fringer, medical assistant at Copper Canyon Family Health Center in Camp Verde. “And we’ve tested multiple patients with children or with elderly people living with them.”

Fringer also said one of the best things about her job since the COVID-19 pandemic has been telling patients that their test came up negative.

“Most are generally, ‘Thank God,’ and that they’re very pleased,” she said.

‘Weird, but good’

Overall, the medical center has tested “upwards of 30 people,” Office Manager Jennifer Hinds said recently. “And not one of our patients has tested positive, which I think is weird, but good.”

The clinic, on Main Street in downtown Camp Verde, doesn’t have “an abundance of tests, but we do have some,” Hinds said.

“I wish we could test everybody,” she said. “Unfortunately, there’s not a never-ending supply.”

Copper Canyon sends its test to either LabCorp or Sonora Quest Laboratories, Hines said. Patients tested for COVID-19 can wait as long as four business days for the results to come in, although they’re “mostly back in two business days.”

“At first it was touch and go, tests were taking close to a week,” Hines said.

‘People staying home’

For now, Copper Canyon has about 15-20 kits on hand. “We had so few in the beginning,” Hines said. “We really had to reserve them for patients who had a possible exposure or if they were symptomatic.”

Truth is, not too many people have come to Copper Canyon Family Health since the pandemic, Hines said, because “it’s not really sick season right now.”

“When it started, I thought we’d be swamped,” Hines said. “But we haven’t. We’re down 50% on our visits since April.”

Hines also said that during late spring and summer “we slow down.”

“We’re also attributing it to people staying home,” Hines said.

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @AZShutterbug42

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