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Hundreds volunteer to check-in on COVID-19 patients in Spokane

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By Tracy Simmons

Having both been diagnosed with COVID-19, Rev. Katie Haney and her husband are quarantining in their Spokane home.

Their cases are mild and they’ve had each other to lean on while they recover.

But many of the 274 people diagnosed with the virus in Spokane are having to isolate alone.

“There’s so many people by themselves. It’s sad, nobody can come and minister to them,” Haney said. “I feel really bad for all these people that can’t be with loved ones when they’re so sick.”

So when the Spokane Alliance put out a call for volunteers to make daily phone calls to check in on COVID-19 patients, she signed up.

The Spokane Alliance, in partnership with the Spokane Regional Health District, recruited about 300 volunteers to track and follow up on Coronavirus patients recovering in their homes. The volunteers were trained to identify if the patients needed hospital care.

Dr. Luis Manriquez, assistant clinical professor at the WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine and a family physician at Sacred Heart Hospital, came up with the idea.

“I was thinking about how can we use the people in these organizations (Spokane Alliance members) and that desire to do something helpful to connect with each other and provide support, and to offload some of the weight from the health care system,” he explained.

He said COVID-19 patients who aren’t high risk are asked to self-quarantine at home. 

But for the patient, that can be scary.

“As far as risk, that’s the appropriate thing to do. But, they’re home scared, feeling terrible, seeing the news that 1,000 people died today and wondering if they’re the next one,” Manriquez said. “So the things volunteers can do is call everyday and see how they’re doing.”

Sometimes they just need reassurance, he said. But other times they need help knowing whether or not they should go to the hospital.

Through funds donated by the WSU College of Medicine each patient is given a pulse oximiter to measure their oxygen levels.

Just last week a Coronavirus patient who was in isolation at home was urged to go to the hospital because his pulse oximter readings were alarming.

“That’s someone who probably would have stayed at home, because earlier the ER told him to leave, but now he’s getting the care needs in the hospital,” Manriquez said.

Manriquez added that the volunteers are also monitoring the economic fallouts of the virus. Patients are being asked about housing, childcare, utilities and unemployment — to name a few. 

He said organizations like Spokane Alliance want to make sure the virus doesn’t exasperate existing inequalities.

Renata Robb, 87, said by being a volunteer she’s also helping with research.

“We’re going to be sitting here for months,” she said. “I thought well this way at least I could do something. When you get to be my age there isn’t a lot you can do. Since I have all my faculties, at least I can talk to people and listen.”

Robb is also making masks for the community.

Haney said she’s moved by the number of volunteers who have signed up.

“I’ve just been overwhelmed by how much people want to help each other and are so cognitive of the deficits of income and employment and how disproportionately poor people are affected by employment and childcare,” the Presbyterian pastor said. “So many people are risking their lives, grocery store clerks are on the front lines basically because they’re lower wage earners, so I think people are really aware of that and want to help anyway they can.”

The Spokane Alliance volunteer program is at capacity and isn’t accepting more volunteers right now. However, Haney said there’s still plenty people can do to help.

She said checking on your neighbors goes a long way, as does connecting digitally with friends, bringing meals or groceries to those who are high risk as well as sending hand written notes.

To learn more about how the Spokane Alliance is responding to COVID-19, both nationally and locally, visit their Organizing During COVID-19 page.

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About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. She serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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