March 26, 2020
A 2019 graduate of the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Nursing program has spent the last several days working at a COVID-19 testing facility in Rockland County, New York.
Brenda Lagares is working 14- to 16-hour days as the lead quality nurse at the drive-through site located in the Anthony Wayne Recreation Area at Bear Mountain State Park. The site is run by the New York State Department of Health and supported by personnel from the New York National Guard.
“I am responsible for all nurses to adhere to protocol and perform their duties with safety at the forefront,” said Lagares who is up at 4 a.m. each morning to commute to the site.
She recently shared her experience from the first day working in the “hot zone.” In medical terms, a hot zone area is generally considered dangerous and it entails special equipment requirements to protect personnel because usually there is a high risk of infection.
“I had originally been assigned to a Manhattan testing site but that location was halted,” said Lagares. “Patients at the drive through sites are seen by appointment only and if they meet a certain set of requirements.”
Testing is currently limited to individuals who are symptomatic and considered to be part of the highest risk population according to the New York State Department of Health. In New York City, testing criteria is even more strict.
Lagares said when she and other medical staff first arrived at the site, they were immediately fitted with an N95 (medical grade) respirator. After being certified by a physician, the nurses were given an extensive tour of the site and instructed on protocol.
“Then we went over the testing process phases, which includes an initial screening by the National Guard of the patients,” she said.
Phase three, which all takes place inside the hot zone, is fully managed by the nurses and that is where Lagares would be working.
When patients arrive by car at the site, they are instructed to keep their windows rolled up and show their state identification to National Guard personnel, Lagares explained. The National Guard member then confirms the information on the patient’s pre-arranged appointment and registration form. The paperwork is then handed to the two nurses who work directly in the hot zone.
Before deployment, Lagares was suited up in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and assigned to two nurses that she would shadow for about 15 minutes so she could fully familiarize herself with procedures. Once she was up to speed, Lagares and a second nurse were assigned their own lane, where patients potentially infected with COVID-19 would drive up in their cars.
Working as a team, one nurse provided detailed instructions to the patients before they drove into the tent. Once inside, the patient would roll down one window and the second nurse would swab a nasal passage. The nurse would then label and carefully package the vial filled with the patient’s sample.
“I packaged the collected samples from patients into a clear plastic bag and placed the bag into a white styrofoam container,” said Lagares. “A runner would take the samples from the hot zone to a different tent and hand the styrofoam container to National Guard personnel.”
Lagares said when she first arrived, the site had been open for about a week and each day staff are working to improve and tweek protocols based on safety and needs.
During the first few days of operation, as many as one thousand patients were tested at the Bear Mountain site, Lagares said.
BMCC helped prepare Lagares for nursing profession
Lagares, who was president of the BMCC Student Nurse Association President between 2017 and 2019, said she is proud to represent her alma mater in this important effort and that BMCC helped prepare her for working during this crisis.
“BMCC afforded me the opportunity, resources and support to pursue my interest in science, specifically virology all while pursuing a degree in nursing,” said Lagares.”I believe my journey while at BMCC was a result of preparation and luck, I call luck, blessings.”
After winning the 2017 annual BMCC Annual research symposium (BARS), Lagares was given the opportunity to work in Science Professor Jose Fernandez Romero’s laboratory at Rockefeller University. There, she and his team analyzed the Combination of Griffithsin and broadly neutralizing antibodies results in antiviral synergy against HIV. She presented results from their research at the 2018 BARS symposium.
Lagares says, “If you’re willing to put in the work, and willing to be a team player, great results can happen.” She said that’s what the team of medical professionals working tirelessly at the testing facilities believes as well.
“Everyone shares similar sentiments of perseverance, compassion and commitment to help as much as possible,” said Lagares.