Eagle Strong: Grad Student Steps Up to Help with COVID-19 Testing

In a typical year, dozens of Eastern Washington University students chose to spend their spring breaks working in service projects around the globe. But during this year’s anything-but typical spring break, many of these students found themselves serving much closer to home.

Count EWU’s Bethany Laird among them. Laird, a 24-year-old master of public health student, was among the first group of volunteers to serve with the Spokane Regional Health District’s “drive through” COVID-19 testing facility at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center. 

“I am always looking for ways to serve my community,” says Laird. “This was a perfect opportunity.”

COVID-19 testing location at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center.

Health officials opened the drive-through site, in collaboration with regional care providers, to lessen the numbers of people seeking tests at Spokane County emergency rooms and urgent care facilities. Volunteers like Laird, more than three-dozen strong, are crucial to the site’s operation. At peak capacity, it can process some 300 cars each day.

Laird, who learned of the need for volunteers from MPH program student and fellow volunteer Vivian Chalard, says her job typically involves welcoming patients to the screening site, directing traffic, and completing patient intake forms. She says she’s been impressed by what she’s seen.

“The testing site at the fairgrounds has been a great start,” says Laird. “Logistically, they are able to test a large amount of people while preserving personal protective equipment and protecting healthcare workers and the public. I think as the outbreak continues to spread, the testing efforts will continue to adapt to the needs of the community.”

Laird says volunteering at the site has reconfirmed her already strong sense of the importance of public health. “Because we live in a global community, any disease is just a plane ride away. We must be prepared for the worst and work collectively to ensure the health and safety of the public,” she says.

Perhaps more than many of her fellow volunteers at the site, Laird understands very well the infectious disease truism: “viruses respect no boundaries.” Along with her parents and sister, Laird moved to West Africa a few months prior to the devastating Ebola outbreak of 2014-2016. While her dad, a doctor serving with the Christian relief agencies Samaritan’s Purse and Sim International, treated patients, Laird drew on her photography skills to document the extent of the suffering. She says the experience was “life changing.”

Laird experienced the Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
She documented the suffering with her photography.
Laird’s family before they evacuated Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. (From L-R: Beth Fankhauser, Bekah Fankhauser, Bethany Laird and John Fankhauser)

“I learned a lot about myself, others, and what it looks like to be a global citizen,” Laird says, adding that her time in Liberia cemented her desire to use her studies at Eastern to focus on health equity.

“I wanted to enroll in a public health program that was focused on underserved communities and global health” she says. “Eastern has been a perfect fit because the program is diverse and allows students to pursue research and experience while completing classes.

“Within the field of public health, my goal is to work to promote health equity. Health equity is essentially making sure that every individual has the same opportunity to live healthy lives. I hope to do this through the community health setting, by working for a local health district or organization.”

The current crisis, she adds, has brought those goals into sharp focus. “It has been an amazing experience seeing community members from all different walks of life come together for a common goal: to provide safe and accessible COVID-19 testing for our community.”

We know many of you in various departments and units are also planning and doing some special things—so please share with us by submitting your Eagle Strong story at Inside@ewu.edu. Please visit ewu.edu/strong to learn more about the university’s efforts.

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