8:45 a.m. Fifteen minutes before the Waukesha Expo Center COVID Testing Site opens, clouds overhead spritz. The temperature is a windy 56 degrees. Another minivan follows the trail across the parking lot that orange traffic cones define. It pulls behind the twenty-some cars already cued into double lines.
Isabelle Krueger, an Air National Guard worker, dons a mask, gown and rubber gloves over a jacket, sweatshirt and jeans. Today, she is part of the ECP, the entry control point team, which means she’ll walk down the rows of cars and make sure people are registered.
Most people preregister on the government website and have a QR code on their cell phones. If they haven’t, she asks them their name, birth date and other information to link the test results to the person tested. She records the codes and labels on the test kits.
Getting people registered speeds up the wait time for those in line to be tested.
Every day, the squad receives 450 test kits. They will stay until they use all the tests or until everyone in the lot at 8 p.m. when the gate closes, gets swabbed.
Yet, they won’t finish up until they complete everyone in line when the gate closes, so “some days are a little longer.”
Krueger, a Certified Nursing Assistant, joined the guard in 2018, right after high school graduation.
Her grandfathers, her father and a couple of uncles served in the military, and she chose to follow their example. “I want to serve my country,” Krueger said.
Because she loves helping people, she volunteered for this COVID testing duty last spring. At that time, she believed it would be a short posting.
However, her posting continues to be extended. She’s heard her assignment will last until Christmas.
Although her squad members have jobs they usually perform, they practice each position.
Just like there is an entry control point team, the National Guard squad has exit control point teams, swabbers and administrators. Exit control teams direct traffic leaving the testing site, swabbers collect the nasal samples, while administrators verify that the samples are correctly tagged.
Samples are evaluated off site, and individuals receive notification of their result, whether it is positive or negative.
Krueger and her squad work at the Expo Center Monday, Wednesday, Friday and sometimes on Saturday. On Tuesday and Thursday, they go to nursing homes, correctional facilities or other institutions where they administer tests. Sunday is her squad’s refit day.
The downside of (her duty assignment) is living in hotels.
“When we do this, it’s very hard to live a well-balanced lifestyle and not being able to cook for yourself,” Krueger said.
And the best part of her assignment? “Getting to know new people from all over,” Krueger said, “making new relationships and friendships.”
She’s spent lots of time with her squad, and she can also relate to the people coming for testing because she had the coronavirus in July.
When Krueger got COVID, so did most of her squad. Neither she nor her superiors thought exposure during testing was the source. Rather, they determined it was the squad members’ closeness.
“They are the only people we usually have to hang out with,” Krueger said.
She said that one day, her superiors announced, “We need to get everybody tested because someone on our team is not feeling so good.”
Then they quarantined everyone in their rooms.
“I ended up becoming positive,” Krueger said. “and some of my friends on my team did as well. We still got our temperatures checked every morning.”
One of the NCOs, noncommissioned officers, wearing a mask and gown “came around with a temp gun to our rooms each morning, took our temperature and monitored how we were doing each day,” Krueger said.
“I had no troubles breathing or anything like that. I just felt kind of dizzy, fatigued, tired and I had an upset stomach. The worst part for me was not being able to taste or smell. I honestly hadn’t realized it until one day when I was halfway in my meal. I’m like, ‘I cannot taste this chicken.’”
Gradually, she recovered. “It took me about two weeks to fully feel 100% again,” she said.
If you are one of the people lining up for testing at the Waukesha Expo Testing Site this fall, you’ll probably see Krueger.
She has this parting advice.
“I think a lot of people are frightened by COVID. It is scary. Wear masks when necessary and be considerate of others, but also do what makes you feel best, too.”