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Top Santa Rosa nursing official has helmed pandemic safety, testing and vaccination efforts

A Year Like No Other — Coronavirus Pandemic in Sonoma County

As Sonoma County marks the one-year anniversary of its unprecedented stay-home order that marked the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, The Press Democrat set out to tell the stories of how our lives have been changed in a year like no other.

In the series “A Year Like No Other” that continues through March, we are chronicling the evolution of the pandemic and its fallout through the eyes of people who live and work here. We thank Summit State Bank for supporting our efforts.

Read all the stories here.

For Brandi Lazorek, the arc of the coronavirus pandemic across her professional life shows up in one clear way on her car’s dashboard: the odometer reading. She estimates she’s driven thousands of miles between hospitals and health clinics in Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt counties — trying to keep the nurses she works with safe, supplied and ready during each new battle in the war against the deadly virus.

Lazorek is a Santa Rosa-based chief nursing officer and clinical operations director for Providence Medical Group’s Northern California region, which takes in sites in Lakeport, Ukiah and Eureka. The role has kept her on the road, outside of the strictest shutdowns, and in the thick of a roller coaster pandemic response for more than a year.

Her pandemic experience has been nearly one long sprint — a stark contrast to the lives of those outside of health care, who’ve marked time by the surges and ebbs in COVID-19, the daily grind of remote work and the prolonged isolation from friends and family.

For Lazorek and her colleagues, there were far fewer ebbs. At the outset, she was at the forefront of the struggle to keep medical workers safe, teaching hospital and clinic staffs how to safeguard against viral spread. She and her colleagues had to scramble which each evolution in guidance from public health experts, like the evolving guidance on masks.

“Health care workers are tired just like everyone else,” said Lazorek, 47. “And that’s something I wish I could fix and I can’t.“

The first confirmed U.S. case of COVID-19 was at a Providence hospital in Seattle in late January 2020. Within a week, Lazorek was participating in early morning phone calls seven days a week as Providence staff coordinated a virus response for a hospital network that spans much of the western U.S.

Lazorek rushed to set up drive-through testing clinics and stock scarce protective equipment for nurses across three counties. “We knew it was just a matter of time,” she said, recounting an unprecedented medical mobilization effort: “How quickly can we get resources that we need everywhere? And what do those resources look like and what's at hand?”

And now that the vaccination effort is the dominant response to the pandemic, Lazorek is again in the thick of it. She is working to set up and train vaccinators, traveling again across the three North Coast counties, working with nurses in high school gyms, fairground pavilions and health clinics.

After months on defense, vaccinating is more “heartwarming work,” for nurses, Lazorek said. “There’s optimism. People are helpful and thankful. That’s what health care is all about is those moments.”

A sense of helplessness or a gnawing pessimism have visited many — including those far from the hospital front lines — during the last year. But in the thick of the pandemic, Lazorek, who has worked in health care for 25 years, never lost faith. “Was I tired at times? Yes,” she said. “Was I hopeless? Never.”

She gives credit to the inspiration and shared drive provided by her colleagues. “I put the team ahead of me,” she said. “That’s who I want to give credit to.“

The latest chapter has involved a daily push to speed vaccinations and combat the dangerous new virus variants that are emerging.

“We are in the midst of history and medical history,” Lazorek said.

On March 31, she was in Napa, seated on a stage at Snow Elementary with a view over a room full of tables where nurses administered vaccines. Many of them, Lazorek said, were volunteering.

To the untrained eye, such clinics appear to be simple operations, albeit on a never-before-seen scale. But there’s a high level of complexity and training involved, all with one goal in mind — getting as many shots into arms as possible while wasting the fewest number of doses.

“It’s just precious to us,” Lazorek said of the vaccine supply.

Because of the main vaccines’ short life span once it is unfrozen, optimizing the stock at hand comes down to timing and awareness, Lazorek said. Nurses have to judge if there’s enough recipients on hand — or if enough can be rushed in — to justify opening a new vial.

On this day, Lazorek and two nurses monitor the flow of traffic into the room and count the readied syringes on vaccinators’ tables. The syringes sit in white and red checkered cardboard containers most familiar for use in French fry orders.

Now they hold lifesaving shots.

All things looked to be running smoothly in Napa for Lazorek, which means it was off to the next site.

“Once it’s a well-oiled machine I stand back and let them do the work,” she said.

3 questions for Brandi Lazorek

Q: What was the moment when you realized the seriousness of the pandemic — that life would be very different moving forward?

A: “Starting daily morning huddles in February 2020. Providence Medical Center in Seattle had the first confirmed case of COVID (in the United States). So that's when I knew. Because we learned from that first case, the entire United States did. I felt blessed to be part of the Providence team as they worked through the first case. Normal medications that we use to treat something were not working.”

Q: What's your most vivid memory from the last year? Is there a particular moment that stands out?

A: “Seeing the first sick patient at a drive-through respiratory clinic. It's amazing to see (health care workers) say, 'I'm going to do this. I'm going to assess you. I'm going to put myself in this position, hoping that the equipment we're using right now is the right equipment.’”

Q: Has anything good come out of the pandemic — something that you will continue doing after the pandemic is over?

A: “Telehealth. Telehealth was not off the ground. I remember sending an email at two in the morning for all the providers … how to get the license, to get them off the ground. And it was a huge team. I was just one piece. But we got telehealth going within a matter of 10 days. That's unheard of. And had the pandemic not happened we'd probably still be trying to do that with patients struggling.”

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

A Year Like No Other — Coronavirus Pandemic in Sonoma County

As Sonoma County marks the one-year anniversary of its unprecedented stay-home order that marked the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, The Press Democrat set out to tell the stories of how our lives have been changed in a year like no other.

In the series “A Year Like No Other” that continues through March, we are chronicling the evolution of the pandemic and its fallout through the eyes of people who live and work here. We thank Summit State Bank for supporting our efforts.

Read all the stories here.

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