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WFAE's Social Distancing series looks at how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, work, learn and connect with each other. The series is hosted by reporter Sarah Delia.

Social Distancing: 'I Signed Up For This'

These days, when 40-year-old Shannon comes home, she has a new routine. She's a nurse in Union County who is on the front lines, working at a coronavirus testing site.

"I go in the backdoor of my house -- which happens to be into my laundry room -- and I go ahead and take everything off and put it right into the wash with just regular detergent but doing it in hot water," she said. "I have a door to actually my bathroom through my laundry room and I just step right into the shower and go ahead and clean off."

This new ritual takes place first thing when she pulls into the driveway because of her job. Shannon is a nurse who works at a COVID-19 testing site. She wipes down the leather seats in her car each day and doesn't take her shoes into the house.

Shannon asked we not use her last name or mention her employer.

Shannon is one of the masked faces you might have seen if you’ve gone to a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site. She’s also a medical examiner -- which means she accompanies law enforcement to conduct a death investigation to determine a cause of death when someone dies unexpectedly. Sometimes that means entering the scene of a homicide or drug overdose.

During non-pandemic times, she’s a nurse at a doctor’s office. And before that, she worked in the emergency room. Point being: Shannon has experienced germs and death in a way most of us never hope to.

"I have been around some really nasty stuff and came out unscathed and I just feel like if I stay calm and I use my nursing judgment -- which counts for a lot -- and then also in the back of my mind, I’m a mom so that’s a priority for me," Shannon said.  "And I’m just being smart about it. I’m not afraid. I know I'm doing the right thing. I'm helping these people get tested. I'm still able to get hours and provide for my family and I’m being very cautious while I do that."

Shannon says she has the access she needs to the right personal protective gear at the testing site where she works. Her family is practicing social distancing; her kids don’t leave the front yard. She’s the one that goes out and braves the lines at the grocery store for the essentials -- and that’s more stressful than the testing sites.

"I get flustered because I see people in the grocery store with gloves on touching things on the shelf and putting them in the basket and then touching their face and I just want to say, ‘The gloves are doing you are you no good! You just touched the shelf, touched the product, touched the buggie, touched your face, you just transferred those germs!’" she said. "A lot of people have a false sense of security because they are wearing the gloves and wearing the masks -- but their masks aren’t but on right, they have the wrong side out, they are taking it off the wrong way. A lot of people have a false sense of security, when truly it is good hand hygiene."

But Shannon’s main source of stress is her children’s education. Her husband works in construction and has long days, like her. She feels like her kids are on their own when it comes to keeping up with school.

"I feel like I’m not able to be with them and supervise them doing the school work," she said of her two girls, ages 8 and 15. "And the little one, I’m not there to stand over her and say, 'OK, make sure you do this and do that.' My biggest fear is that she is going to fall behind and this is going to hold her back in some way."

It’s complicated. Shannon wishes she could be there to make sure her daughters are staying on track. And she’s grateful to still have a job.

But one thing's not complicated: seeing patients at the testing site. She knows people are scared and worried about what will happen next. Shannon wishes she could take away the fear the general public is experiencing right now.

"It is a scary virus," she said. "I hate scary, myself -- I don’t do haunted houses. I don’t do spiders especially. I hate the feeling of being scared and I hate knowing that so many people out there are having that feeling all the time right now. That just hurts my heart."

But Shannon wants everyone to know health care workers are here for the public. Shannon says part of her job is to help educate if people have questions. And, she says, she’s not doing anything she didn’t sign up to do.

"Honestly I feel strange about the 'health care heroes' thing that’s going around because I don’t feel like a hero; I’m doing my job," Shannon said. "When I went to nursing school, when I decided to be a medical examiner, I signed up for this. I knew there was a chance that something like this could happen. You always know there’s a chance you could be put in harm's way. And I signed up for that."

Shannon will try to spend as much time with her family as possible until she's on the job again. She’s the on-call medical examiner Friday, and who knows what will happen. In the meantime, she’ll take a break, maybe read a book, step back from the news. Life in this pandemic world, much like life in the old one, carries on -- one way or another.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, all of our lives have changed in some way. Maybe that means you’re working from home for the first time or having to put off a major life event like a wedding or funeral.

It might mean you’re out of work, taking an unexpected financial hit … or juggling work while having your kids at home

In our series Social Distancing, WFAE’s Sarah Delia speaks with you, our listeners about the challenges you’re facing. WFAE is trying to do its best to work remotely, so the majority of this series, including the interviews, are being done from Sarah’s dining room table.

WFAE wants to hear from you. If you’d like to share your story on the new challenges you’re facing in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, give us a call and leave a voicemail. The number is 704-916-9114. Or go wfae.org for more information. Follow WFAE for the latest news. And we hope you and your loved ones are taking care.


Click here for the latest coronavirus news on WFAE’s live blog.

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What questions do you have about the coronavirus? What has this experience been like for you? Share your questions below.


Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.