By Terri House
Paramedic Jeff Zaffino envisioned himself hiking and enjoying the outdoors last weekend. Instead, a potential exposure to COVID-19 left him in quarantine in his garage.
It is suspected the Pagosa Springs Medical Center (PSMC) Emergency Medical Services (EMS) paramedic was exposed to COVID-19 while on a routine 911 call.
Zaffino was in his garage on April 14 hosting an online training for a leadership course when he was informed of the exposure.
His wife, Ashleigh, stuck a note in front of him during the class telling him that his boss had called and that “It was urgent, could he please call right away?”
Zaffino couldn’t take the time away from the class and students.
When the class was over, he called his boss, PSMC EMS Assistant Chief Connie Cook, who informed him that according to San Juan Basin Public Health, he may have experienced an exposure to COVID-19.
Zaffino’s response was a four-letter word not fit for publication.
“They explained that for the next 14 days, I could not leave my home. They would make sure everything was taken care of, and anything I needed, they would make sure that happened,” he said.
For Zaffino, he “knew it was a matter of when, not if” he would be exposed to coronavirus.
While unable to disclose information about the ambulance call he was on due to patient privacy concerns, Zaffino explained that it was a “typical 911 call” and the EMS crew has been proactive throughout the pandemic, wearing more personal protective equipment (PPE) than normal.
Zaffino immediately told his family about his situation via text message. “I told them I was quarantined and no one was allowed in garage.”
At his request, within 30 minutes, his family was outfitted with N95 masks thanks to Cook.
“They were gracious and did that within 30 minutes,” he explained.
EMS Capt. Deb Calavan delivered toilet paper, beer, whiskey and a recliner to Zaffino, dropping them off in his driveway.
He was informed about the potential exposure within 48 hours. Zaffino explained that he doesn’t fear having exposed his family: “No, for a couple of reasons: I am comfortable with the level of PPE I was wearing on that ambulance and I don’t feel I would have been contagious at that point.”
Zaffino explained that he had planned going camping somewhere for the weekend.
“It is a little bit weird, I was contemplating a camping trip, but this isn’t what I had in mind. I was planning on anywhere that wasn’t a 12-by-12 space in my garage; 144 square feet takes the meaning of tiny house to a whole new level,” he said.
A tent set up in his garage, where he has been sleeping on an air mattress, isn’t what he had in mind. He much prefers a spot on Devil Mountain or somewhere in Moab where he could be “doing mountain photography.”
However, it was more important to him to quarantine near his wife and three children, ages 3 weeks, 1 year and 18 years. His mom, Sharon, lives with them, too. At 70 years of age with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she is considered high risk where COVID-19 is concerned.
“I can at least see them through the window and interact with them,” he explained. “The hard thing is getting to see him and him wanting to be picked up and I can’t,” he shared about 1-year-old Dominic.
While in quarantine, Zaffino checks in with a health nurse daily and reports if he has any symptoms. He also takes his temperature twice a day.
Zaffino’s PSMC coworkers and supervisors have shown an outpouring of support.
“The state offered to put me up if I was uncomfortable, but I declined,” he said. “I guess they are doing that for quarantined health care workers.”
He’s been a paramedic with PSMC EMS for almost two years. Before moving here, he spent 18 months driving back and forth from his home in Denver to work here.
After close to 30 years working on an ambulance, first as an EMT and then a paramedic, Zaffino sought ways to develop his staff personally. In his work with EMS, he is the leadership development coordinator for PSMC’S EMS. When he isn’t visiting with his friends and coworkers, Zaffino is busy focusing on developing his leadership skills. He is a certified coach and working toward becoming a certified speaker while he is in quarantine.
“I have five different leadership books and I signed up for online classes,” he explained. “I love to be able to give value to other people.”
When asked the most important lesson gained out of this experience, he shared, “It’s twofold: I learned that I have a lot more support and people who care than I realized, including folks I never have contact with normally. I could turn this into the biggest tragedy and focus on the negatives and the what-ifs or I can focus on that I have two weeks to just invest in myself. Not everyone can do that, using that as time to invest in other people.”
Over the weekend, he pulled out his meat smoker and prepared some brisket, which he deemed delicious, but the best meal in quarantine has been his mom’s eggplant Parmesan.
Another positive aspect of staying in his garage is the beer refrigerator, which happens to be well-stocked thanks to numerous deliveries of beer and whiskey from friends who have dropped off enough in his driveway to last two years.
After 14 days of quarantine, Zaffino looks forward to returning to the work he loves helping others.