Student Braves Coronavirus Front Lines

Maddie Odom fighting coronavirus in PPE
Maddie Odom ’20 sent this selfie to Visiting Professor of Biology Sara Tanis this week. It was a response to Tanis’ text asking whether Odom was doing OK while volunteering at a coronavirus testing site at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit.

At least one Kalamazoo College student is serving on the front lines in the world’s fight against COVID-19, comforting those who fear they might have coronavirus.

Armed with three years of experience as an emergency medical technician, Maddie Odom ’20 is volunteering at a drive-through coronavirus testing site at the former Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit. There, Odom volunteers for more than nine hours per shift, six days a week, to serve as many as 800 people a day through the Coronavirus Community Care Network, a coalition of local governments and health services.

Volunteers like Odom are serving people experiencing multiple symptoms of coronavirus such as a persistent cough, a fever of at least 100 degrees, a sore throat and shortness of breath. They also have a prescription from a doctor to receive a coronavirus test.

Odom said as many as 42 percent of the people receiving services on a given day have tested positive, and the care network expects to perform about 14,400 tests through May 8. Detroit has drawn international media attention for recording nearly 5,500 cases of COVID-19 as of April 7.

“Everyone I work with is pretty exhausted, but it’s pretty rewarding,” Odom said. “Working together, we know what we’re doing is helping in some way.”

Lacrosse Maddie Odom
Maddie Odom has been a two-sport student-athlete at K in soccer and lacrosse.
Soccer Maddie Odom
Maddie Odom ’20 has played women’s soccer and lacrosse at K.

Odom’s regular duties have varied from testing patients to directing traffic and checking IDs — on top of carrying her spring term course load as she prepares for graduation.

Many might consider Odom to be a hero for her volunteerism and bravery while facing a pandemic, although she sees it as community service enabled by her health, her training and the fact she currently lives alone so she doesn’t have to worry about taking the virus home to her family.

“I know it’s a time when people feel kind of helpless because you can’t leave your house,” she said. “I’m just glad I can do something to help.”

Sara Tanis thanks Maddie Odom
Visiting Professor of Biology Sara Tanis has a special message for Maddie Odom ’20 in response to her public service at a coronavirus drive-in testing site in Detroit.

Odom expanded her passion for public health when she took a public health course at K led by Director of Careers in Health and Medicine Karika Parker. Separately, Odom has pursued emergency medicine as a wilderness first responder, a summer camp nurse and an EMT for an ambulance company. Since, she has decided to seek a career as a physician’s assistant.

Now, Odom relies on faculty members such as Visiting Professor of Biology Sara Tanis and students such as her K women’s lacrosse teammates for support. Together, they collect goody bags that contain items such as hand sanitizer and treats for health care, sanitation and shelter workers in the Detroit area to supplement Odom’s efforts.

“For me, one of the very best part of teaching is watching my students evolve into strong and vibrant members of their communities,” Tanis said. “Maddie has taught me so much over the last year about perseverance. Even when she’s in a situation where most people would give up, she just keeps pushing forward. Here’s to you, Maddie. I’ve never been more proud.”