In the Lanes

Bryce Berie1

One test at a time, UC student and National Guardsman Bryce Berie ’22 is helping combat COVID-19 in a New York community being ravaged by the virus.

Bryce Berie is the first to admit—the test for COVID-19 is not pleasant.

It requires placing a sterile swab deep into a patient’s nasal passage to reach the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose. After several seconds, secretions are absorbed and a sample is collected.

In a typical five-hour shift, Berie administers around 200 of these tests on patients ranging in age from six months to 92 years.

“Kids are usually the toughest to test,” says Berie. “I’ll say ‘OK, I’m going to pick your boogers now’ and that helps puts them at ease.”

Since March 13, Berie, a Utica College sophomore and member of the U.S. National Guard, has been stationed at a COVID-19 drive-through testing site in Suffolk County, New York. It’s one of dozens of similar testing sites established throughout the country and staffed, in part, by the National Guard and other medical volunteers. Berie and his troop were deployed to help with the testing efforts at Stony Brook University on Long Island, which has converted much of its campus to accommodate testing operations and patient triage.

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Berie is a member of UC's baseball team.

Along with the rest of the country, it’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Berie, who headed downstate from Utica at a time when Suffolk County had reported fewer than 100 cases of the coronavirus.

“We were told that the deployment would last around a week, so I planned to be down here for the duration of UC’s spring break,” he says.

But within days, the number of confirmed cases had nearly quadrupled, and it became clear to Berie and his commanders that the troop’s deployment would be extended. Now, one month later, more than 21,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been reported in Suffolk County, making it one of the state’s—and the country’s—hardest hit regions.

“I take it day by day,” Berie says. “We haven’t been given an end date, so I’ll be here as long as they need me.”

“I take it day by day,” Berie says. “We haven’t been given an end date, so I’ll be here as long as they need me.”

That pragmatic approach is helping Berie, a biology major and a baseball player at UC, get through the grueling days “in the lanes”— Berie’s shorthand for the six-lane testing site in the University’s commuter parking lot. As he explains, it’s an operation designed for efficiency; tests are conducted seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with the capacity to administer more than 1,000 tests per day. Patients receive their results by phone within 48 hours.

A month into his deployment, Berie says the once-surreal routine is becoming familiar. Each day begins with a temperature check (fever is a telltale symptom of the virus). Once he’s cleared, Berie is outfitted with the personal protective equipment (PPE) that’s in such short supply worldwide—a full-length gown, face shield, gloves, and an N95 mask. Berie will then spend up to five hours administering tests before a meal break or before returning to his hotel room in nearby Ronkonkoma for the night.

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Ready for duty: Berie is outfitted in full PPE before starting a shift.

Then it’s time for class.

Like all Utica College students, Berie is learning to adapt to the virtual classroom and manage his schoolwork. But, arguably, his circumstances make the transition more difficult.

“Time management is definitely challenging,” he says. “But my professors have been awesome. They understand what I’m doing here, and they’re being flexible.”

As for the emotional toll of his daily work, Berie is similarly matter of fact: “It’s not easy,” he says. “I just try to be a calming presence [when testing], because people are scared.”

Is he scared? Of the virus, the death toll, and what the future might look like for him and the rest of the country, when and if this pandemic subsides?

“No, ma’am,” he says.

He joined the National Guard three years ago to help people, he explains. And in this time of national and global crisis, he’s proud to be doing just that.

“This,” says Berie, “is what I signed up for.”

 

 

 

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