On the Front Lines

On the Front Lines

Josh Patterson (left) and Jaynie Welsh (right) are two Rock Springs natives who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Coronavirus has impacted us all. For some, it has created a complicated lifestyle, while for others it has created opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible.

Such is the case for Jaynie Welsh and Josh Patterson, two Rock Springs natives who have been on the front lines of the pandemic – but in two very different ways.

Although both Welsh and Patterson have experienced two different worlds from one virus, they have learned similar lessons.

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From Cap and Gown to Lab Coat and Gloves

Welsh graduated from the University of Wyoming earlier this year in May with Microbiology and Physiology degrees. Ironically, she didn’t plan on using her degrees for a career. Instead, she had planned on going into higher education.

Through one of Welsh’s senior projects, she had connected with Noah Hull, the microbiology program manager at the Wyoming Department of Health – Wyoming Public Health Laboratory. During one of their interactions, Hull had informed her about a potential job at the lab doing COVID-19 testing.

“He had mentioned something about a potential COVID-19 testing job at the beginning of May, but I had never really pictured myself working in a lab,” Welsh said.

After graduation, Welsh moved back to Rock Springs with a few options. One of those options had been her plan for higher education, to which she submitted her application for.

“I wasn’t really sure what my next life move would be, but I had the job Noah had offered me in the back of my mind. I couldn’t get over the thought that I had a degree in microbiology that could be very beneficial, but I was sitting at home not using it,” Welsh said.

With some thought, Welsh reached back out to Hull who explained the goal of increasing testing throughout the state. In what seemed to be a revelation, she knew what she had to do.

“I knew that this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to help my state and my community, so I accepted the job,” Welsh said. “Two weeks later I packed up and moved into a hotel in Cheyenne. That was on June 1, and I’ve been here testing since.”

“Ultimately, my decision to take this job was an opportunity to help the most vulnerable in our state,” Welsh said.


From Normal to Lockdown

On March 16, Josh Patterson’s life changed instantly.

Patterson, who lives with cystic fibrosis, was watching a Utah Jazz game just a few days before. His favorite player, Rudy Gobert, tested positive for COVID-19, leading to a shutdown of the NBA. Seeing how easily his favorite player could catch the virus sent him into a packing frenzy.

Initially, Patterson stayed in his house for five days before making the decision to pack up nearly everything he owned and moved into his grandparent’s camper. It has now been just under five months since he has been in lockdown.

“I am considered high risk, and I have been fearful of what that means for myself,” Patterson said. “I have been struggling with my cystic fibrosis for a while now, and if I were to get COVID-19, I’m sure it would be grim.”

Besides losing his freedom to go out into the public, Patterson has not been around anybody else, including his family. In addition, he has not been to his frequent doctor appointments in six months.

“I haven’t hugged a family member for four months, and I hardly see them. And if I see them, it’s outside and from a distance for a short amount of time,” Patterson said.

I am considered high risk, and I have been fearful of what that means for myself.

Josh Patterson

Another Day in the Lab

Welsh clocks in at the lab around 3 pm each day. When she arrives, she puts her mask on in her car before going into the building and then switching her mask again before entering the lab. When she finally gets into the lab, she wears a disposable lab coat, safety glasses and gloves.

“I pretty much do the same thing every day, but what that looks like depends on how many tests we get,” Welsh said.

Though repetitive, there are two parts to COVID-19 testing: extraction and polymerase chain reaction. After the staff decides who is doing which part, it’s a team effort to get as many test results done as possible.

“There were 35 emergency staff hired and we all work together to get through the tests we’ve received in a day,” Welsh said. “We have a lot of procedures in place to ensure accurate testing and resulting, and it truly is a team effort.”


Camping Out

The best word to describe Patterson’s day is “dull.”

After waking up, eating and taking his pills, he then does a cystic fibrosis vest treatment. Once that is over, he typically gets to take a break to play NBA 2K with one of his brothers for an hour before doing various work-related tasks until 5 pm.

Although work ends, another cystic fibrosis vest treatment happens before eating dinner at 6 pm.

A quick bite to eat turns into various tasks to prepare for bed which include sterilizing his nebulizer cups and setting up his tube feeding and C-pap devices.

Seeking out a nighttime snack, Patterson then takes Trikafta, which is a revolutionary gene therapy drug that has made a significant difference in his fight with cycstic fibrosis. He then does another vest treatment and takes his pills before closing his eyes for the night.

There is hardly any socializing and no in-person visits from friends.

All About the People

Long days and different experiences have helped Welsh and Patterson see the importance of coming together and fighting the virus for a bigger reason other than themselves.

“Working at the Public Health lab has really put a lot of things into perspective for me,” Welsh said. “It makes me think about Wyoming, and despite our distance, how each positive can impact an entire community. I’m just seeing a small snapshot of this pandemic; the tests come through our door and we result them, but there’s a person on the other side of that result. It’s overwhelming to think about the impact of all of those tests sometimes. It has taught me that we all have a role to play in this pandemic and we each have to do our part to prevent the spread of the virus.”

Similarly, from a different perspective, Patterson has witnessed the importance that workers play in keeping the world running.

“I’ve also learned about the importance of many different workers during this time and how important they are to keep things going,” Patterson said.

Patterson also noted that he’s noticed the flip-side and how selfish some people are and a lack of empathy.

Many lessons have been learned between the two, but the common theme of people helping people has been eye-opening.

Doing Your Part

Both Welsh and Patterson hope that their experiences will help others see the importance of doing their part to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“This pandemic isn’t over, not for me, especially not for people who are immunocompromised, like Josh,” Welsh said. “If anything, working in the lab has shown me just how much I don’t know about the virus. This is why I trust our public health officials and leadership and I know that they are making decisions that will protect our communities based on their education and experience.”

Patterson also stressed how other high risk individuals still have to do simple things like shop and work. Coming together and practicing simple COVID-19 recommendations can have an impact.

“I am fortunate and blessed to stay isolated in this camper, but other individuals who are at high risk don’t have that opportunity,” Patterson said. “They have to work, they have to get groceries, they have to interact with people.”

“Let’s mask up, socially distance, wash our hands, and learn from others. We can beat this virus, but the only way we can is if everyone comes together,” Patterson said.


THE LATEST COVID-19 CORONAVIRUS NEWS & INFO FROM THE WYOMING DEPT. OF HEALTH

What to do if you feel sick: If you think you have been exposed to COVID-19 and are showing symptoms, please call your primary care provider or seek medical attention.

Please follow these tips to slow the spread of this virus:

  • Follow Public Health Orders
  • Wear cloth face coverings in public settings, especially when physical distancing of at least 6 feet isn’t practical.
  • Stay home when sick and avoid other people unless you need medical attention.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Older people and those with health conditions that mean they have a higher chance of getting seriously ill should avoid close-contact situations.
  • Long-term care and healthcare facilities should follow guidelines for infection control and prevention.

For current news, updates, closures and resources, please visit our COVID-19 Coronavirus page here.