Westminster Alum Tests Salt Lake for COVID-19
January 4, 2021
by Maria Comp (’23)
After graduating with a biology degree in the tumultuous year of 2020, Maya Rockwell (’20) was left in an uncertain position. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic that would cause so much chaos provided her a unique opportunity to volunteer for the Salt Lake County Health Department and provide free COVID-19 testing for the community. Over a year later, Maya has been promoted from a volunteer to the department’s COVID testing team coordinator. She oversees testing sites across the county and commits her time to providing access to testing for communities who need it most.
Volunteering During a Pandemic
The pandemic was so new at the time Maya began volunteering that the testing program developed alongside her. Beginning in April 2020, she began volunteering with the Medical Reserve Corps of Salt Lake County. “There was a team of six of us that were all volunteers,” Maya says. “We started the testing program within the county as volunteers and, in June of 2020, we were all hired by the county.” The volunteer program was then adapted into the official Salt Lake County testing program.
Westminster College faculty introduced her to the volunteer opportunity. “Westminster pretty much got me this job at the end of my senior year,” Maya says. “John Contreras is a public health professor and he sent out an email to all the people who were enrolled in any public health class at the time. I happened to be taking Global Health with Han Kim, which was my first and last public health class, but it was amazing.” Westminster is known for encouraging students to engage with the local community, and that initiative is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ensuring COVID-19 Testing Accessibility
In terms of current operations, there is a combination of permanent and mobile testing initiatives. “We are running three different testing locations right now that are brick-and-mortar permanent locations. We run those five days a week and we provide free COVID-19 testing to the public,” says Maya. In addition to permanent testing locations, facilities where people are in close contact have mobile testing done when there is an outbreak or exposure, for example, schools or workplaces. In the event of an outbreak, a mobile testing team will arrive at that location to identify anyone who has contracted COVID-19 before it is further spread.
An important goal of Maya’s team is to provide free testing to people who have limited healthcare resources and don’t have other testing options. “The people that we’re getting are low-income, often Pacific Islander or Spanish-speaking populations,” Maya says. “That's been our goal—to try to highlight those areas and make sure that we're targeting them with testing options so that they're not left out.” Making sure everyone has access to testing is crucial for individual safety but also in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic as a whole.
For the future, Maya advises both civilians and higher-ups to get the vaccine and continue wearing masks in public places. “Leading by example and getting vaccinated is super important,” Maya says. She is hopeful that with more children (and adults) getting vaccines, life can start returning to normal.