Nielsen Elwood ’98 deployed to perform COVID-19 testing

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Jennifer Nielsen Elwood ’98 worked at the State Hygienic Laboratory in Coralville, Iowa, tracking and identifying antimicrobial resistance in patients throughout Iowa. Now her day-to-day work looks a lot different. She’s testing the COVID-19 specimen swabs for patients and hospitals during the night shift to keep up with the demand. 

Nielsen Elwood, a biochemistry & molecular biology and chemistry double major, is part of the Emergency Preparedness Team for the State Public Health Laboratory for Iowa. At the beginning of the pandemic, she was working in her regular role at the laboratory and would fill in in other areas as needed. By the second week in April, the testing volume for COVID-19 grew exponentially and she was deployed to test collected specimens for the virus.


This is part of a series of stories on Cornellians responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our primary mission is to protect the health and safety of Iowans,” she says.

That mission put her on the front lines. In addition to testing for the virus and establishing COVID-19 antibody testing, Nielsen Elwood and her colleagues at the State Hygienic Laboratory are in constant contact with the Iowa Department of Public Health, providing information for them to track the virus as it spreads across the state. 

“The State Hygienic Laboratory is a vital resource for our clinical partners across the state, like hospitals, clinics, and physician’s offices. We have weekly meetings with these partners giving them the latest information from the CDC and other governmental agencies, and to provide any safety guidance needed for these facilities to protect their staff, patients, and visitors,” she says.

As the pandemic continues, Nielsen Elwood urges people to social distance as much as possible.

“I know that it’s difficult, especially with the good weather, but it really is the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Hand hygiene and wearing a face mask in public, she insists, is also a must. 

Nielsen Elwood offers one last piece of advice that many forget about as we focus on maintaining our physical health during a pandemic.

“Take care of your neighbors, family, and friends. Please reach out to anyone if you feel overwhelmed or anxious because your mental health is important, too.”

How are you responding to the COVID-19 pandemic? Contact us to share your story, or alert us to other Cornellian’s responses.