Hanna Jones saliva testing

Sophomore nursing major Hanna Jones scans a student's SaferCommunity app at a COVID-19 saliva testing site on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska

 The COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on many jobs for students, but it has created new opportunities for those seeking experience in health care. With the recent addition of saliva-based COVID-19 testing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, student workers are given the chance to help the community through the pandemic.

Erin Murray works as a research business services specialist at UNL’s Prem S. Paul Research Center at Whittier School. She’s currently overseeing the COVID-19 testing sites by supervising the site manager and site supervisors.

Murray said the saliva-based testing sites around campus currently have a full staff equipped with 140 student workers and temporary staff members. When applications were still available, students were able to apply through UNL employment and Handshake. Temporary part-time and full-time jobs were also open to the general public.

“Working at the testing site provided students a convenient job opportunity that also allows them to gain valuable work experience,” Murray said.

Murray said students working at the testing sites are not only gaining work experience in the medical and customer service fields, but they are also getting the opportunity to help the university community stay safe.

“It is extremely rewarding work knowing we are doing our part to help our community,” Murray said.

There is no prior experience needed to work at the testing sites, but Murray said all workers are trained on the job and required to partake in several safety training courses. These include a variety of written forms and videos that educate about biohazard procedures and properly putting on personal protective equipment, or PPE. They are also required to complete in-person training about handling test samples.

Students can fill two positions to help with the testing process. A COVID-19 saliva collector is present at testing sites to assist students, staff and faculty with their saliva samples. Other students also work to set up and close down sites, sanitize the work stations, make sure the site inventory is stocked and prepare test kits with the materials needed for an individual to complete a saliva sample. There are also courier jobs that pick up saliva samples from each testing site and deliver them to the Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center. These workers are also responsible for distributing inventory to each of the testing sites.

Second-year microbiology major Alexandria Puett works as a saliva collector. Puett is on a pre-med track and said she applied for the job to gain some experience in a health-related field. 

“This gives me clinical experience in a way,” Puett said. “I’m actually dealing with patients kind of. I’m walking them through the testing, and I’m dealing with a virus in-person and getting the experience of putting on PPE and following the precautions that are required to protect yourself and others and trying to prevent the spread while also safely testing people.”

For her job, Puett said her three-hour shifts begin with putting her stuff down and getting into PPE. This includes a gown, gloves and a new mask.

“The important thing is to not get essentially what they would think of to be COVID on you. They want to prevent that from touching you,” Puett said.

Puett said the thought of contracting COVID-19 from her job does occur to her, but she said she feels mostly comfortable considering the amount of protective measures. In addition to completing any required testing from the university, Puett said she plans on testing every 10 days to ensure she is protected. Murray said student workers at the test sites aren’t required to complete any additional testing.

Overall, Puett said saliva collecting is a pretty easy job except for the boredom of waiting for more people to arrive. Her location varies on each shift, but the blending of employees has given her the opportunity to meet new people.

“I don’t think I’ve worked with the same person twice yet, which is kind of interesting. We always kind of start talking whenever we are all bored and not doing anything. It’s kind of nice to share people’s majors and see why they’re doing it,” Puett said.