School News
Examining the pandemic through the eyes of front-line workers
By Dallas College media release
Jul 26, 2020
Print this page
Email this article

Dallas, Texas -- As COVID-19 continues its devastating wave, medical workers from Dallas College find themselves teaching the next generation of health science students while also providing essential health care as they help fight the pandemic.

Tracking the deadly virus in Dallas is imperative and that puts Victoria Yeatts, a registered nurse and adjunct instructor at El Centro’s Allied Health Program, alongside Dallas County’s health officials,  including epidemiologists on the frontlines of determining where the virus might spread next. 

As an authorized tracer with Dallas County Health and Human Services’ COVID-19 Pandemic Response team, Yeatts monitors those affected by the disease and warns others who may have been in exposed.

Medical experts consider contact tracing a key to preventing the spread of COVID-19 by alerting unsuspecting victims that their health may be compromised. Without a vaccine, contact tracing is essential to containing the virus. Any resurgence puts lives at risk and further threatens the county’s health system.

“When we find someone who is positive, we ask them to give us the names of those they’ve been in contact with and then we track down those individuals,” Yeatts said. Her job is to identify potentially exposed patients and tell them they need to be screened and quarantined.

“I tell them that if they have symptoms or their symptoms become worse, they must seek medical treatment,” she said. “That’s where the containment is.”

Yeatts sees her work as not only important but essential to making students understand they must prepare for all kinds of medical scenarios.

“I grew up in the generation that played in the dirt and sand. You got exposed to things and your immune system is strong. But something like COVID-19 with no treatment or vaccine, you must take precautions. It’s a real strange virus,” she said.

The virus is insidious, she said, and victims may or may not see symptoms.

“There’s no rhyme or reason. I’ve talked to families with members who have no underlying health problems. I give them my sympathy but this virus has so many unknowns. It’s so hard to hear people say one minute they’re okay and later they’re positive.”

Saving breath

Shawn Terry teaches fulltime at the El Centro campus and works as a respiratory therapist at Parkland Memorial Hospital. He has worked in the hospital’s Intensive Care Units a lot more lately and he’s seen more demand and more respect for respiratory workers.

“The respiratory therapists are vital,” Terry said. “All the news stories are about the nurses and doctors, but almost every COVID-19 patient sees a respiratory care practitioner. That’s as front line as it gets. It’s been nice to fill in and help out the others who have the added responsibilities of taking care of COVID-19 patients."

“As respiratory therapists, we’re not usually thought of until things get bad. The people we help are thankful, and COVID-19 has increased knowledge about what we do. I tell my students ‘you’re going to play a vital role in health care, and we’re all members of the team.' My goal for my students is that they know that it’s important to be the best they can be, and to know that they’re part of the team.”

Don Martin, dean of health occupations at El Centro, has identified and is championing more than 30 El Centro faculty members who are also directly working to abate the COVID-19 pandemic. These workers, he said, not only are training health care providers of the future, they are donning masks and gowns as they work to provide medical care, comfort and a healthy landscape for Dallas County.

“It’s really a lot of additional stress for them,” Martin said. “The circumstances at the colleges where they work means they have to adapt to a new environment at hospitals as well.”

Some of Martin’s students even live apart from their families to avoid making them sick.

“They’re extraordinary people to start with. They’re prepared and that’s why the transition to online learning was easy for them. They’re used to adapting,” Martin said. “These workers are invested with the community’s well-being. It says a lot about their leadership and character.”

If any of the students share one thing in common, it’s dedication.

“They could easily give up teaching,” Martin said. “The thing most people don’t understand about health science teachers it that the passion they have for health care is the same they have for their students. This is our opportunity to help people and they bring that into education.”