College of DuPage (COD) student and Illinois National Guard Pfc. Sabine Gonzalez knew she could be deployed at any time around the U.S., but she never thought it would be to help in the fight against one of the world’s deadliest pandemics, COVID-19, right in her own backyard.
“I joined the National Guard last year at 17 years old to find myself and become part of something bigger than myself,” Gonzalez said. “I knew my unit could be activated at any time but never in a million years did I expect that I would be on the front lines fighting a pandemic that has taken over the world. When I got the call that I needed to report the following morning, I was not sure what to expect. I knew how dangerous and out of control the virus was, so stepping into what seemed like a war zone made me apprehensive, but I knew I had to step up for my country.”
A long day, every day
Gonzalez is stationed at a coronavirus testing site on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Each morning, she leaves her hotel room in nearby Rosemont and makes her way to an old vehicle emissions testing facility in the Dunning neighborhood where more than 115 Guard members are working to test first responders and healthcare workers for COVID-19.
While Gonzalez is not the one administering the test, she works in the staging zone filling out patient paperwork and retrieving patients’ vitals.
“I’m grateful we have protective equipment, like gowns and N-95 masks, because most of these patients are very symptomatic and we’re interacting with hundreds a day,” she said. “I am only interacting with patients through a cracked window, but with such a contagious virus, it only takes one slip-up to get infected myself.”
Taking classes, too
After administering the daily limit of 250 tests, Gonzalez and the other Guard members go through a decontamination process and have their temperatures taken a final time. She heads back to her hotel room until her next shift the following day. While she said it can be isolating, she looks forward to working on her COD classes virtually through the help of her professors.
“Before my unit was activated, I was enrolled as a full-time student,” she said. “With classes now virtual due to campus closing, I’m able to continue my full class load online. I miss the hands-on learning, but I’m grateful to my professors who have been providing me extra support during this time.”
COD Psychology Professor Ken Gray has known Sabine for only a semester, but her impact on him will be long-lasting, he said.
“When I watch too much news and begin to feel despondent about the next couple of months, I draw strength and inspiration by thinking about the people who are risking their own health for the rest of us,” he said. “I am lucky that I can put names and faces to a few of these heroes, but chief among them is Sabine. For months, I knew her as one of my General Psychology students, but now I know her as a superhero.”
Everyone does their part
Despite the uncertainty of these unprecedented times, Gonzalez said it puts her mind at ease knowing she is able to help.
“Before my unit got activated, I felt like I was helpless and there was nothing I could do,” she said. “In a couple of years from now I’ll look back and be able to take this experience with me in my next endeavor.”
Her advice to COD students is to do their part by staying home and following social distancing guidelines.
“I did not take this as seriously as I should have before I saw the pandemic up close,” she said. “I urge you to take this seriously and stay home. Now is not the time to use this as a vacation to hang out with your friends. Use this time to focus on not only yourself but your loved ones. With your help, we can save lives.”