BAKER CITY — After working for several months treating people who are recovering from bouts with COVID-19, Lori Brock now uses a telephone to fight the virus.

Brock, a registered nurse, has lived in Baker City for four years.

She was hired at the Baker County Health Department in August and since then has done both case investigations of COVID-19 infections as well as contact tracing — talking to people who were potentially exposed to the virus and advising them about quarantining.

But earlier in the pandemic, Brock was, as she puts it, on the “front lines” of combating COVID-19.

She worked as a traveling nurse in Roseburg, Portland and the Boise area. Her duties included treating people who had been released from a hospital after being treated for the virus and were recovering at home.

Brock said that her experience in home health nursing showed her how the effects of the virus can linger.

“Many (patients) were on oxygen and still feeling pretty weak,” she said. “It was really interesting.”

Brock said she was gratified to have a chance to join the Health Department staff.

“It’s nice to be home, based in Baker City,” she said. “That’s where my heart is.”

Brock’s father, who is 97, owns the Pondosa Store along Highway 203 near Medical Springs, about 20 miles northeast of Baker City.

Although Brock’s current job involves talking to people on the phone rather than treating them in person, she said there are similarities with her previous work in nursing.

She asks people how they’re feeling, and talks to them about any symptoms they or other members of their households are having.

“I gather as much information as I can,” Brock said. “If they’re feeling OK, it’s usually a light and cheery conversations. It depends on the individual and how they’re feeling. It’s really all about them.”

Brock said she believes her recent experience in treating COVID-19 patients is beneficial in case investigation and contact tracing because she is familiar with the common symptoms.

That helps her answer questions from the people she interviews about what they should expect in terms of symptoms.

And Brock understands the circumstances that warrant a person seeking immediate medical care.

“As a nurse I have a background of treating these conditions,” she said. “I can give insight to them about the symptoms to watch for.”

Brock said most of the people she talks with are at home, but she has also spoken to a few who were in the hospital at the time due to COVID-19.

Although she’s accustomed to treating patients in a hands-on way, Brock said she also appreciates the advantages of doing work over the phone.

“I really enjoy visiting with people,” she said. “With the phone I meet a lot more contacts than I ever could in person.”

Brock said her chief goal is to make people feel comfortable, which can be a challenge when the purpose of her call is a potentially dangerous virus.

“I try to establish some rapport right away over the phone,” Brock said. “I assure people I’m there to help them and answer their questions. If people don’t trust you they’re not going to talk to you.”

Brock said she appreciates that her job gives her a chance to answer people’s questions and, potentially, to ease their minds in a frightening situation.

“I see myself as an educator,” Brock said. “I feel like education is a huge part of what nursing is about.”

Although her work as a case investigator and contact tracer doesn’t afford Brock the chance to treat patients directly, she said it’s “not frustrating at all” to do her work over the phone.

“I still get to do the educational piece,” Brock said. “And people are so thankful. People are not thrilled at being diagnosed (with COVID-19). But it’s reassuring to them to have somebody following up. Many people say they were waiting for a call. People are really glad that somebody is out there looking out for them.”

Brock said only on “rare occasions” has she called someone who declined to talk with her.

“That’s OK too,” she said. “What they do with the information is up to them. All we can do is try.”

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