COVID-19: Dispatches From the Front Lines

Stories from health care workers in clinics in the Department of Family Medicine & Community Health. Read what they are seeing and feeling during Duke Health’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Weeks 4-5: Nicole Yeates, RN

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Health care workers at drive-through testing site
Nicole Yeates, RN (right), with Ry Garcia-Sampson, MD (left), and Kenzie Johnston, MD (center), showing Coach K's "fist/heart" gesture.

By Andrea Martin

Nicole Yeates, RN, has lived in North Carolina less than a year, and says her colleagues at Duke Family Medicine Center have now become her family.

“I have felt … supported and proud of what we are doing, and of everyone who’s involved,” she says.

Yeates has been one of three nurses at Duke Family Medicine Center who have been at the center of the clinic’s COVID-19 response from the beginning. She and colleagues Megan Arguello, RN, and Geri Wahlay, RN, volunteered to be fit-tested for PPE and trained to swab the first large group of patients on March 13, and they haven’t stopped.

In the past five weeks, testing at Duke Family Medicine Center has shifted from in-clinic, to a small tent in the clinic’s lower parking lot, to expanding tent hours to seven days a week, to moving all testing to a large four-lane tent across Erwin Road in Duke’s GC parking lot. Yeates has been there the whole time, ready to jump in where needed. She has worked 12-hour shifts and also trained nurses and providers from other areas of Duke who are redeployed to the large tent.

“I read all those stories of nurses who don’t have the right PPE, or are being forced to do things they don’t want to do. I don’t feel that way,” Yeates says. “Even though I want to do this, I feel like everyone feels so appreciative of us.”

Though she has felt fully supported at work, Yeates has encountered some unpleasant reactions when she is off the clock. She says people out in public—when at a gas station or at the pharmacy—tend to look at her when she’s wearing her scrubs, and she gets the impression no one wants to be near her. She felt this reaction on a more personal level a few weeks ago when her boyfriend’s roommate asked her to leave their apartment because she was a nurse.

“He got very rude and said ‘I feel very unsafe with her here’,” Yeates recounts. “Maybe it was just because I was tired, but I felt very personally attacked in that moment.”

On Yeates’ days off, she spends more time reading and exploring the outdoors near her apartment in Durham. She and her boyfriend went skateboarding last weekend.

“There’s a little park next to my apartment, a trail, that I didn’t even know was back there because I’m usually so busy … going out with friends,” she says. “We spent about three hours outside on Saturday, which was really nice.”


Note: Duke Health’s drive-through COVID-19 testing sites are by appointment only and require a provider’s referral.

Special thanks to Caitlin Piccone, MPH, who transcribed the interview.