We all have stories to tell about how our lives have changed as a result of this pandemic. Some of you have asked, so I will tell of my particular journey. Mine starts with maybe having contracted the illness in late March--who knows how and when it will end.
Soon after I recovered from being ill, I was furloughed from my environmental science job at AECOM because all my projects were postponed due to the pandemic. As I was looking at options, I ran across a job posting directly addressing the pandemic and in late April found myself in training to decontaminate N95 masks for reuse in the Battelle CCDS program. That started a different life for me/us that we continue in.
The adventure began with my first 3-week deployment in Indianapolis where we more or less set up the site for the work there to begin. If curious, do a search on Battelle CCDS for an overview of the program. In short, we receive used N95 masks from hospitals, clinics, dental offices, first responders, etc., place them on wire shelves in specially-converted shipping containers, decontaminate them with concentrated hydrogen peroxide vapor, aerate them to evaporate all traces of the peroxide and ship them back to where they came from. We generally have 4 decontamination chambers at a site and each load takes approximately 2 days to complete. As a batch moves through the process from contaminated to decontaminated, we go from taking precautions and wearing PPE to protect us from the used masks to taking precautions and wearing PPE to protect the cleaned masks from potentially being contaminated by us.
After 6 weeks in Indianapolis, I had a 5-day break and moved on to Stony Brook, NY and was there for six more weeks. I was then called back from furlough to my original job and so went back to AECOM in early August. After 2 months back, the projects still weren’t happening at the rate needed and our group went through restructuring and now I was out of a job. So, I checked back with Battelle and re-entered the CCDS program. I am writing now from Madison, WI where I came on December 4 and will finish my time here on January 15 when I will return to Columbus. I then could take another 5-day break and then head out to another Battelle CCDS site, but the likely plan I am working out now is I will start a new COVID-19-related job with the Ohio Department of Health on January 19 to help distribute COVID-19-related supplies such as the vaccine.
My time with this mask decontamination project has been quite different from anything else I have been a part of. After being relatively isolated in other jobs due to the pandemic, when at a CCDS site we are thrust together with a team of 6-8 people working closely together with 12-hour shifts running 7 days a week. That means we spend a lot of time together with all the associated team dynamics, good and bad. I have met some interesting and special people in this process with much diversity of personality, ethnicity, life experience and perspective. It also means living and cooking out of a hotel room with only a few hours of free time a day if sleeping time is considered.
The nature of the decontamination process taking a long time to complete means there is a lot of down time waiting for chambers to decontaminate (around 4 hours) and then aerate (around 48 hours) and shipments to come and go. As we are not allowed to sleep during down times, the 12-hour days and lack of a weekend break results in life being an exercise in endurance. My shift starts at 1:30 a.m. and extends to around 1:45 p.m. so that means a lot of walking (okay, extended pacing) around the site (I am currently in a Wisconsin DOT vehicle repair facility) with a lot of time to think and a lot of time to read or listen to audio books. Recently, I have been going through a number of Wendell Berry’s Port William series audio books as I pace around the facility trying to stay awake. These have been both entertaining and thought provoking and excellent for my situation here.
So this is a bit about how COVID-19 has changed and is changing my life. We are all well aware of how it has affected each of us and yet I suppose not really fully aware of how it has changed us and will change us as we move forward. The great thing is despite it all, we are not separated from the love of God in this. Keep on keeping on…