Mary Ann McLane, PhD, MLS(ASCP)CM, ASCLS Past President

Author Mary Ann McLane has been teaching her neighbors in her retirement village about the difference between antibody and molecular tests, as well as teaching them how to use Zoom.

Such an unprecedented spring and summer! COVID-19 certainly has radically changed forever this generation’s definitions of “shelter in place,” “social distancing,” “essential services,” “PPE,” and “curbside pickup.” As one of the youngest (at 71 years old) members of Westminster Village, my retirement residence in Dover, Delaware, I find this experience has provided me with a different perspective on many things, including my favorite mantra, “Provide the Face.” My neighbors living here with memories of the last pandemic in 1919 were only babies at the time, so the situation is truly a new one for us all.

Anyone suggesting to me all of this healthcare frenzy is just a bunch of hype will have me point across the driveway from my apartment in Independent Living to the building listed on our campus as “HealthCare,” housing those needing skilled nursing services. To date, we have 18 residents in HealthCare who have tested positive, with nine deaths, and seven active staff cases. Thankfully, no one in Independent Living, Assisted Living, or Memory Care has shown symptoms. This has, however, allowed me to spend literally hours since the March lockdown, explaining the difference between antibody and molecular tests for SARS-CoV-2, and FDA vs CDC vs EUA vs LDT to my neighbors here, not to mention repeatedly emphasizing that “testing” sites are not really doing testing at all, but rather doing a step in the pre-analytical phase!

It is a strange feeling to be now labeled as a member of a “vulnerable population.” Being in good health, I nonetheless have needed to interact with clinicians in my new environment, but now with a mask on constantly. This gives me an empathic admiration for those MLS/MLT colleagues who need to be at the bench these days, for entire shifts, with masks on. When our governor called for those in retirement with clinical expertise to consider volunteering for the effort, of course, I seriously gave it a thought. “I should be able to help out in some way,” I reasoned to myself, until I realized that the strict quarantine for this Westminster Village vulnerable population would force me to rent a hotel room for the duration since I would not be allowed to return to my apartment on campus for fear of bringing the virus back. I had to consider my disappointment of not being able to help as my gift to this new community of mine, providing my face only “here” rather than “there.”

"The days of picking up a pipet may be over for me, but the opportunities to highlight our critical role in healthcare never end, for all of us!"

I have been helping many residents to provide their face by teaching them how to set up and use Zoom. What a Godsend for decreasing the loneliness and isolation faced here without visual and tactile contact with friends and family, especially when a husband is in Independent Living while his wife is in the HealthCare building. Having four Zoom meetings in a row on one day can be a bit much, but I am still very grateful for the technology that has also allowed the spring school semester to at least have a semblance of continuing, albeit very creatively.

Months before Medical Laboratory Professionals Week, I applied to get a Governor’s Proclamation. Of course, the nicely scripted parchments could not be personally delivered as I had hoped, but their digital versions were emailed to the education program directors at the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College, to the lab staffs at the Delaware Public Health Lab and Christiana Care Health System, so everyone could share the special “whereas” about our being crucial for handling COVID-19 testing in the state. I also proudly displayed that proclamation, plus my own, in my apartment building’s lobby at Westminster Village.

It continues to be a joy and a privilege to “Provide the Face” of our profession. I am even explaining lab test results to those village residents who accept my offer to do so. I am giving Zoom lectures to MLS and MLT students in Region II and serving as an external reviewer for an MLS colleague’s academic promotion in Jamaica! The days of picking up a pipet may be over for me, but the opportunities to highlight our critical role in healthcare never end, for all of us!

Mary Ann McLane is happily retired in Dover, Delaware.