When the pandemic first hit in early March, Owen Burns, today the operations manager at the Island’s free coronavirus testing site TestMV, was in Chicago looking for a job.

Mr. Burns, a Philadelphia native who completed his master’s in mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania last winter, had moved to the windy city with his girlfriend Lucy Hackney a few months earlier for Ms. Hackney’s work. He was applying for a position at a renewable energy company when the virus dealt its first blow to the country.

“The day that that whole thing happened was the day that the stock market crashed and Covid sort of tore apart everything, so that whole thing ended up being a pipe dream,” he said. “We ended our Chicago adventure pretty much as soon as that happened.”

As cases rose and businesses closed, the couple headed for Ms. Hackney’s childhood home on the Island to wait out the pandemic. Soon, Ms. Hackney began work as the health center operations manager at Island Health Care. That’s how Mr. Burns first learned that a fledgling testing site at the regional high school needed a manager.

“I just want desperately to do something to help,” he said, recalling a conversation with Cynthia Mitchell, CEO of Island Healthcare, the federally qualified community health center that is a partner in the testing site. “I couldn’t have thought of anything better for my own learning . . . than to help fight this disease,” he said.

As a frontline worker, Mr. Burns received his vaccination just before the holiday. — Ray Ewing

In his months on the job, Mr. Burns has quickly become a familiar face to Islanders, often seen in a colorful coat or brightly-colored sneakers, stationed at the doors of the high school or hooking test kits to cars.

He has no previous experience in public health, and other than brief training from Ms. Mitchell and IHC patient care manager Michael Savoy, Mr. Burns said he learned on the job.

“It was definitely daunting at first,” he said. “Everything about this place is in constant flux — how many cases we have, how many appointments we have, who can volunteer, so I’ve had to constantly learn in order to make things as good as they could be. The learning curve was definitely sharp.”

On an average day at the site, Mr. Burns oversees an array of operations — from setting up the site before its 8 a.m. opening, to coordinating volunteers.

He said his work as a graduate student prepared him well for the challenging parts of the job, like problem-solving and thinking on his feet. But the fast pace and unpredictability of the position turned out to be his favorite part.

“A lot of my days consists of me sitting at my desk, waiting for something to go wrong,” he said. “Having to juggle all that stuff at the same time has been an immense challenge, but it’s also been extremely rewarding. I learn something new every day.”

Along with Mr. Burns, a tightly-knit staff of four full-time employees and a handful of volunteers keep the show running.

The full-time staff, composed largely of recent graduates like Mr. Burns, tackle on-the-ground work, like directing traffic and keeping patient files. Two staff members, Sara Poggi and Donna McElroy, are also licensed to administer tests. A devoted cohort of volunteers — most of them retired medical workers — handle the bulk of the testing.

“These people have come out of retirement to help fight Covid on their Island,” said Mr. Burns. “It’s just amazing to me — it speaks so highly of a community that people love it enough to come spend their time here with us.”

Since the TestMV site opened early last summer, demand for testing has grown dramatically. Currently the team tests about 1,600 people a week — roughly 320 a day — with busy weeks bringing as many as 470 people in a day.

“When we started, we were doing 30 to 50 people a day,” Mr. Burns said. “When a car came in the parking lot, it was a big deal.”

The team has worked hard to adapt to the growing demand, bumping testing days up to five a week and shifting tent configurations to limit backup in the parking lot on busy days. Most recently, the team installed tent space heaters to keep nursing staff warm through the colder months.

Remarkably, through a number of northeasters and other storms this fall and winter, the site has only closed unexpectedly once — for 15 minutes in November when a tornado warning was posted briefly on the Island. “These volunteers are out here in all weather, the rain, the winds, anything,” Mr. Burns said.

He also said the future of the site is clear — testing will remain open as long as there is a need. As for his next chapter, the vision is less clear. Besides, he’d rather focus on the here and now.

“People come here and they’re so thankful. I think it’s recognized how important this is to the community,” Mr. Burns said. “I feel so lucky that I get to work at a place that’s valued this highly by the people who are a part of it.”