As COVID-19 cases continue to break out around the state and locally in Orange County, more and more people have begun to rely on the treatment and testing at UNC Health facilities.

Dr. Amir Barzin is the Incident Commander for UNC Health’s Respiratory Diagnostic Center, or RDC, in Chapel Hill.

Over the past few weeks, the RDC has seen between 70 to 150 patients every day for the testing and treatment of COVID-19. Barzin said the sheer number of people who need to be tested is putting strain on the facility, forcing them to reserve the majority of testing for hospitalized patients.

If a patient does meet the criteria for testing through an online assessment or physician’s referral, they are routed to the RDC and asked to go through their drive-through testing site.

“We have a large circular loop and, basically, you kind of come around that loop,” Barzin said. “Going through that loop you’re registered for your appointment, given paperwork, that paperwork is reviewed, you’re assessed in the space of your car by one of our clinicians to make sure that we don’t need to do a more focused assessment on you and then in your car you’re swabbed as well.”

Barzin said the whole testing process is done from the patient’s car and doesn’t take more than a few minutes per person. Additionally, unlike the seven to 10-day waiting period at other clinics, results at the RDC are usually released the same day if not the day after.

After a patient has come in to be tested, they are automatically enrolled in a text chat with medical staff from UNC Health. If nothing else, Barzin said this pandemic has quickly and efficiently evolved their virtual care options.

“Everyone that comes through our testing site is basically receiving a text chat that is sent to them daily,” Barzin said. “From that process, if they are feeling worse the chat is flagged for a nurse to call that patient regardless of testing status. So this could be a person who had tested negative or a person who had tested positive.”

For all of the positive cases, the RDC has been calling those patients to check-in everyday on top of utilizing the chat function.

When treating patients in person, Barzin said they’re doing their best to keep everything sterile by having hand-sanitizing stations set up all throughout the RDC and, of course, practicing as much physical distancing as possible.

“In our morning huddle with 35 people, we stand in a circle the size of a parking,” Barzin said. “When we’re doing things that involve direct patient care we’re wearing proper PPE and we’re trying to make sure that we have monitors to ensure that people are wearing their PPE the right way and if they’re coming in contact with a patient that they’re taking off their gloves and disposing of those and using hand sanitizer before putting on new gloves. So we’re taking a lot of precautionary measures.”

These precautionary measures extend outside the medical facilities and into the home life. Barzin said he tries to be extra cautious when it comes to keeping himself and his family safe – going as far as to live in another part of the house and forgoing time spent with his 14-month-old daughter.

“That’s been tough but I know that it’s a small sacrifice that many others are making as well,” Barzin said. “We’re just happy to be able to use our tools as medical professionals here to help the community.”

Back in the workplace, Barzin’s team of 35 had never worked together before the onslaught of this pandemic. Despite this, he said everyone has really pulled together to become each other’s “family away from home” during this unprecedented time.

“I have never had a team merge together and be so enthusiastic and so positive ever in my career,” Barzin said. “It has been one of the most humbling and awesome experiences that I’ve had as a clinician.”

To learn more about how UNC Health is handling the coronavirus outbreak, visit their website.

Photo via Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP.