ST. JAMES, Minn. (KEYC) — Earlier this month, more than 800 evacuees returned home to the United States from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Around the same time that the evacuees learned they’d be returning, a nurse practitioner in the Emergency Department at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont and Mankato and Minnesota Disaster Medical Assistance team member Vonnie Gratz received word of her next deployment.
But, due to confidentiality reasons, she wouldn’t know what her team’s mission was until it was right in front of her.
“I kind of suspected it would be something because I knew it had been declared a National Public Health Emergency,” Gratz said.
Although the returning passengers did face a temporary 14-day quarantine upon arrival at the five respective air force bases across the country, Gratz says morale was high by simply being in the states.
“They talked a lot about the radio blaring and loudspeakers blaring and also being subject to a lot of chemicals that were being sprayed into the air, not being able to leave for several weeks,” Gratz added.
Year-round, the resident of St. James has a room in her home ready to go, with all that she might need on a deployment as rare as this one.
In this case, she could leave the gloves at home because she was sent to Fairfield, California, at the Travis Air Force Base.
Gratz was then faced with the learning curve of monitoring and potentially diagnosing a virus for 12 to 14 hours per day that still has many questions surrounding it.
“A lot still isn’t known about the coronavirus and we were learning more, just as everybody else was about how to keep ourselves safe and also to keep our families safe when we came home afterwards and worrying about my co-workers." Gratz continued. "Was I going to be able to come back to work?”
On-site, the team was supported by the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to ensure the necessary care was provided.
By the end of the two weeks, the responders and group of evacuees, which contained families and children, formed relationships, with the many forms of thanks being a testament to that.