University students and community members are volunteering as COVID-19 symptom screeners for UT Health Austin in order to allow their typical clinic operations to continue.
Volunteers ask each person who enters the facility a list of questions to determine if they are exhibiting any COVID-19 symptoms and take their temperature with an infrared thermometer. Devin Kline, the clinical materials manager for UT Health Austin, said they have had 150 volunteers since the program began in March.
Kline said the volunteers were initially medical students and nursing students, but after those students returned to their rotations, UT Health Austin reached out to more people in the community. At first, they approached those with past medical backgrounds or those wanting to enter the medical field. However, in the past few weeks UT Health Austin experienced a critical shortage of volunteers, leading the team to reach out to the general UT community.
Kline said that after reaching out to a broader group, he feels they should have enough volunteers to make it through October.
“I think we're going to be safely covered for this period,” Kline said. “Then (we’ll be) trying to figure out what the next steps will be in terms of reaching out for more volunteers, or if this will have a lasting effect on students coming back on campus, and people are willing to help out and want to have experience in a health care setting.”
Kline said in order to keep volunteers safe, they are provided with surgical masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes. Volunteers can also take temperatures from a longer distance with the infrared thermometers. Volunteers work five-hour shifts on weekdays of their choosing, Kline said.
Retired nurse Deb Sarosdy started volunteering at the clinic in April. Although she is in a high risk age group, she said she still wanted a way to help the community. Despite having concerns about the risk when she first started volunteering, she said UT Health Austin made expectations for social distancing clear.
“People kept saying, ‘You're putting yourself at a higher risk,’ ‘you're already in a high risk age group,’ and ‘why are you doing that?’” Sarosdy said. “I said, ‘Well I want to help. It’s how I’m engineered, and I'm careful.’”
Nutrition junior Yanning Li also started volunteering as a screener in June and said he plans to continue working there in the fall. He said for the most part, although there is a COVID-19 testing center in the building, the volunteers are kept separate and he feels safe while volunteering.
“It's definitely a difficult time, so I’m just trying to help out as much as I can,” Li said. “We're just trying to eliminate any possible threat to the general clinic.”
Although many volunteers have had interest in the medical field, Kline said the job is created for people with no clinical background, and anyone can volunteer.
“It's just important to remember how willing people have been to step up and help out during the pandemic,” Kline said. “It's a nice reminder of what the community of UT is and what the community of Austin is and how important that is to people during a pandemic — just remembering that people are able to help out in different ways.”