Clarksville, TN – On a cold, gray morning in late January, Austin Peay State University (APSU) President Mike Licari put on an N95 facemask and a protective gown to visit the University’s COVID-19 Coronavirus Testing Center.
That’s where frontline workers huddled around a small heater in the Ard Building’s back parking lot while Licari thanked them and asked questions about the site – the only fully operational PCR lab in the county.
As of January, Austin Peay State University’s Health and Counseling Center has administered around 20,000 COVID-19 Coronavirus tests and more than 5,000 COVID-19 vaccines.
“That’s lots and lots of tests,” Dr. Heather Phillips, director of laboratory testing at APSU, said. “But we were the first school in the state of Tennessee to detect these variants. We were the first to have access at the time. So, we said, ‘Hey the UK (variant) is here, alpha is here in Tennessee.’ We were the first ones to say, ‘Delta’s here in our city.’”
Phillips took Licari and Jane Semler, professor of allied health, into a small shed where the workers type information on a laptop and wash their hands until their skin becomes coarse and dry.
“It’s brutal in the winter between patients because you have to remove your gloves to put on hand sanitizer,” Phillips said.
During the tour, the center’s staff kept having to step away as people walked or drove up to receive a COVID-19 test. Certified Medical Technician Ceasar Robinson said visitors to the center are often frightened of the process and the results, so he works to calm their fears.
“My goal is to make people feel safe and healthy,” he said. “Maybe they’re having a hard day, so for me, it’s about being able to make them laugh, try to help them have a better day.”
That morning, in addition to Robinson, medical technicians Celeste McNeely and Stephanie Herendeen stood in the cold administering COVID-19 Coronavirus tests. Inside the basement of the Ard building, Selena Bell waded through pages of paperwork. Every COVID-19 test is accompanied by three pages of paperwork, which then has to be faxed – yes, faxed – to the Tennessee Department of Health’s single fax machine.
While Bell worked, Zetty Wadham, Shayla Reed, and Kaylynn Cummings staffed the University’s COVID-19 lab – a small room in the basement of the Ard. That’s where up to 200 PCR tests are processed and where the University stores its Moderna vaccines.
After Licari thanked the workers one last time, Semler passed out T-shirts and echoed the president’s sentiment – “Thank you for all you’re doing.”
For information on APSU’s Health and Counseling services, visit https://www.apsu.edu/health-and-counseling/.