Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

There was a process to making the transition from work to home during the pandemic, according to Molly Leppert, nurse manager at Sanford Health clinics in Jamestown.

"You changed clothes after work and the scrubs went in a bag and directly to the laundry," she said. "For a lot of us, we joked the changing room was the garage at home."

Nurses and other health care workers usually showered immediately after getting home and before they had contact with their families.

Leppert said those precautions were among the first concerns they had when the news of the pandemic began to circulate.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

"As a nurse and mom you had to know, how did you not bring it home," she said.

Those issues were just part of the fear of the unknown that many in the medical community faced, according to Dr. Sarah Schatz, a physician at Sanford Health clinics in Jamestown.

"We didn't have a playbook to follow with such a new disease process," she said. "... we had fear we would potentially spread the disease if we got infected."

The fear of the unknown soon gave way to plans and procedures, Schatz said.

"We rapidly set up a drive-through process," she said. "... that peaked at about 50 patients in a day."

Testing patients in their cars was a fair-weather process and was ended during the winter.

The clinic was divided into "clean and dirty" sides, according to Jon Lillejord, manager of the clinics.

Patients were asked screening questions about symptoms before entering the clinic and changes were made to appointment schedules and waiting rooms.

"We tried to isolate people," Lillijord said. "Keep people separated in the waiting room and in the hallways."

This involved removal of some of the waiting room furniture and a transition to a new method of delivering medical care. Another change was the removal of magazines from the waiting room areas to prevent the possible spread of the coronavirus. They are unsure if the magazines will ever be returned to the waiting rooms.

But the safest way was to keep the patients out of the clinic, Lillijord said.

"Telemedicine went through the roof," he said.

There was also the task of providing information about the coronavirus to the clinic's patients.

"We had two designated nurses just answering COVID calls," Lillejord said.

Being the source of information for the public created its own challenges.

"The hardest thing is you were constantly on the edge of being out of date," Schatz said.

Updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came daily and sometimes multiple times during the day.

The changes over time included more information on testing and treatment, Schatz said.

"Treatment protocols have changed," she said. "It used to me be if you were sick enough to need oxygen, you were in the hospital. Now treatments for people include antibody therapy. It is a huge shift in treatment."

The advances have allowed more people to be treated at their home with monitoring by doctors and nurses, Schatz said.

Now, with the availability of vaccines and better treatment protocols, the hope in the medical community is that life returns to normal.

"By fall, we may not have a lot of changes," Lillejord said. "Will we have to go through another year?"

Some of the questions yet to be answered include which is the best vaccine or is the best one yet to be approved.

"We are still seeing cases of COVID," Schatz said. "This isn't over yet."

The clinic has relaxed some of the precautions but still wants people to take care of their own health.

"We don't want people to stop wearing their masks and isolating," Schatz said. "Especially when they are sick."

Lillejord said the response by the Jamestown medical community has helped everyone through the pandemic.

"There have been a lot of positive things," he said. "The medical community learned we can work together and be effective."

Despite more than a year of changes and learning, there are still concerns within the public and medical community.

"I haven't seen some of my family for over a year," Leppert said. "We don't know how long the coverage will last."

Schatz said the feeling about the pandemic has changed over the past year.

"Less fearful," she said. "More hopeful."