Faces of the Frontlines: Caring for patients drives public health nurse in time of crisis
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A passion for caring for people inspired Michele Lewis to pursue a career in nursing, so it’s no surprise she is on the frontlines in the battle against the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a very interesting experience, and I’m learning a lot,” Lewis said Wednesday as she waited for the next car to drive up to the community testing site set up in the parking lot of the Howelsen Hill Ski Area in Steamboat Springs. “When I took the job as Routt County public health nurse, the COVID-19 epidemic was just starting. Then on March 16, my first day, I jumped right in, and it has been nonstop.”
A member of Hayden High School’s Class of 1996, Lewis earned her associate’s degree from Northwest Colorado Community College in Craig and then a master’s degree from Western Governors University. She has worked for Yampa Valley Medical Associates and Memorial Regional Health before landing her current job with Routt County.
“I’m not concerned about me because I’m pretty healthy, but I am concerned about the people that I may come in contact with,” said Lewis, who was wearing full protective gear, including an N95 mask, rubber gloves, a protective gown, booties and a plastic face shield as she administered the COVID-19 tests under strict protocol designed to protect the health care workers. “I don’t want to expose them to anything,”
Testing is just one of the many jobs Lewis has undertaken as a public health nurse to help stop the spread of COVID-19. She is also responsible for notifying residents when they test positive and then contact tracing. This includes long hours on the phone and a lot of behind-the-scenes work.
“I’ve been working crazy hours,” Lewis said. “I’m busy because part of my job is reaching out to anybody that a person who has tested may have been in close contact with for the last two weeks, and then monitoring the people who were contacted, writing isolation orders, checking on them to see how they are doing and if they have any symptoms.”
When Lewis is not working, she lives in Hayden with her husband and two older children.
“This has been a really eye-opening and a great learning experience, because we don’t know that much about this virus and the whole world is in it together,” Lewis said.
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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Sheila Symons’ son got COVID-19 around Labor Day. He has since missed about five weeks of school, spent five days at Children’s Hospital in Aurora and has seen more doctors than an 11-year-old child should.