“I remember I spent days on the phone from waking up until nine at night just calling positives because we were keeping track of all the positives as well as all the contacts and following them through their isolation in quarantine, so it was a lot of phone calls.“
Gayle Ardito is a registered nurse with a bachelor’s degree in science from Boston College. She was brought to Merrimack to help with COVID-19 surveillance and has now been with the college for a year and a half. Ardito is currently with Hamel Health Center, which is the campus’s health center for sick and injured students. She lives near the college with her husband and five children.
The interview begins with Ardito’s personal account of the pandemic, including reflections on being at home with her children and getting a family pet. She also recalls her first impressions of the virus from a nurse’s point of view. Ardito then describes her role at Merrimack College and how she began working at a college with thousands of students during a global pandemic, including what her hectic schedule was like every day. The interview concludes with her thoughts on how to balance work and private life and tips for future generations who may have to deal with a pandemic.
Antonio Ferreira: I got to ask too, was there any moments of frustration working on campus during all this?
Gayle Ardito: Okay, so I guess, one of the most frustrating things just trying–once you found out there were, you know, once you’ve got positive cases you wanted to get them off of campus or into isolation as quick as possible to slow the spread of the virus. So getting in touch with students sometimes was difficult. I finally caught on and realized that they are much more likely to respond to a text than a phone call, so I would text them just saying, you know, “This is Gayle from COVID surveillance, could you please give me a call?” And I would get a call within two minutes, but if I tried calling them three or four times it’d be no answer or their voicemail box was full or not set up so that was one of the frustrating things just because you just wanted to, you know, you had to get in touch with them, you had to find out who their contacts were and get all those people into quarantine, so I think that was a little bit frustrating.
AF: Was there any frustrations when you got home? Anything?
GA: Sometimes, you know, the testing. You never knew when tests were gonna come back. You know, students were testing all day, all-, you know, all day long every week so tests came back at different times so sometimes at home there would be positives, you know, coming back, you know, seven, eight o’clock at night, so I mean that was a little frustrating, because then, you know, you felt bad too telling people you know you gotta leave campus, you know, so I know the college was understanding after a certain time that they would not notify them till the morning but yeah, that was definitely a little frustrating.
AF: You mentioned a little bit there how there was a tough work and life balance, do you think you maintained it pretty well?
GA: I think so. It– The days went by so quick, so I feel like I don’t really have time- not much time to think about it, but I think so yeah. I just– I mean, you know, because the kids were all around too, so there was always a distraction.
AF: So could you describe, though, a little bit of what your workday would look like for me?
GA: So, I would work from home every day, except for two days a week, so I would usually, in the morning, we would start bright and early seven or eight o’clock making calls to the positives. And at this time, no one was vaccinated so all their contacts had to quarantine also. Sometimes they had 10 to 15 contacts. So you were calling, you know, with each positive case, maybe 10 contacts as well, so it was a lot of phone calls and sometimes that took until like, you know, the middle of the day to get in touch with everyone. Some students needed housing on campus because they weren’t able to go home if they had a loved one that was compromised, or, you know, something like that so. It was just a lot of work there, and then we also followed the students, so I would check in with people that were in quarantine, make sure that they were getting tested, if they had any symptoms, things like that.
AF: Were they personal trips or just kind of contacts via technology?
GA: Via technology.
AF: Via technology okay. I was wondering if you actually went to the actual, like, isolation booths with all the PPE and masks on?
GA: Yeah, no. We would talk to them by phone or email, just touch base with them every few days. The students that were on campus, we would– we arranged to have them tested. We had like a backdoor testing policy at the testing center because we didn’t want them, you know, if they were exposed to COVID, we didn’t want them coming into contact with people that hadn’t been exposed. We would set up times for them to meet at the back door, and the testing center staff would bring them in and test them quickly so that we could, you know, determine if they had converted to positive.
The interview was conducted over Zoom in North Andover, MA, and Wilmington, MA, on December 1, 2021, by Antonio Ferreira.
This interview is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.