MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – With many Minnesotans still out of a job during this pandemic, there’s a unique opportunity now to get back to work while also helping in the fight against COVID-19.

The sixth COVID-19 saliva testing site opens Wednesday at the Rivers Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. Four more are planned for the metro, including one at the St. Paul RiverCentre. All of them are hiring.

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“I think if you look at any of our resumes in February of this year, no one said ‘Oh I know how to run a testing site’,” said Shawn Baxley. He’s the Vice President of Field Operations for Vault Health, the company operating the Minnesota Department of Health’s COVID-19 saliva testing sites across the state.

“We’re constantly hiring right now and our really big goal is to try to get as many Minnesotans back to work as possible,” he said.

The main job opening is for a test supervisor. Wearing PPE, the supervisor observes people taking a saliva test from a distance, ready to answer questions if needed and direct people from station to station. No medical experience is required.

“We get people from the hospitality industry, travel industry, retail. You name it, you’ve seen it,” Baxley said.

Some didn’t have to go very far to land one of those job openings. Phillip McLoughlin is the manager of the testing site at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center where he worked as its Director of Building Services until he was furloughed in May. Needless to say he’s been eager to find a steady job. Landing in the building he’s known for 16 years was a plus.

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“The benefit I have is my former job is entirely customer service and events. And not that this is an event, but you can kind of treat the flow of traffic and how you talk to people through like an event so that kind of prepared me for it,” he said. “It’s been a really good opportunity for me and the staff here to get back into the flow of something. It just feels really good to go back to work daily.”

Naturally, there’s concern about being near people who might be infected. Baxley said staff are tested regularly. They wear masks, eye protection, gloves, and maintain social distance. Hand sanitizer and cleaning materials are found at every testing table. “The really big difference I think between this and the nasal swab test is that you don’t get up into someone’s face with something, put something inside their nose that could make them sneeze on you,” said Baxley.

McLoughlin added, “In the back of your mind you’re thinking ‘how can I keep this person safe and myself safe and get them through with a positive experience so they can get back out and live their most normal life?’”

Despite the risks, staff find a sense of duty and fulfillment in their new roles. While they’re not a nurse or doctor, they are suddenly on the “front line” of the pandemic, helping in an effort to slow the virus’ spread. McLoughlin said those taking a test often explain why they’re getting one.

“When they say ‘thank you’ or there’s those positive experiences like ‘Oh I wanted to go see my father in a nursing home’ or something like that. It’s like cool, I helped you through this and now you get to go on and hopefully you get a negative result and you get to see someone you haven’t seen in a few months,” McLoughlin said.

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In addition to hiring people for testing sites, Vault Health also needs workers for the new lab in Oakdale where the tests are processed. If you’re interested in applying for a job, click here.

Jeff Wagner