On Thursday, Jan. 14, following a change in federal guidelines, Gov. Ralph Northam expanded COVID-19 vaccination eligibility to include half of all Virginians. Now, in addition to healthcare workers and nursing care center residents who were eligible to receive the vaccine before, all Virginians age 65 and older are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The challenge: getting it to them.
In the first few days of expanded eligibility, the county Health Department received more than 50,000 inquiries seeking vaccination. But many of those people may be waiting for a while—given enough supply, the Health Department can now vaccinate just over 1,000 people a day, including a site where school nurses are working to vaccinate school staff.
Each county site, said Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend, is able to vaccinate 500 to 600 people a day, and on Friday across the two current sites the Health Department vaccinated more than 1,200 people. Supervisors on Tuesday evening authorized spending up to $2.2 million to lease a third vaccination site for eight months.
Much of the vaccination work falls to the volunteers of the Loudoun Medical Reserve Corps.
Gone are the days of the volunteer bucket brigade, neighbors spontaneously showing up to help out at any emergency. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, it became clear the country needed a corps of trained, pre-screened volunteers, ready to step up when called upon.
“A lot of people just showed up to the towers in New York City, and we had no control over them,” said Loudoun Medical Reserve Corps Coordinator Francis Rath, a retired lawyer. “They didn’t know who those people were, and in some cases, unfortunately, the people were not who they said they were. So it was decided—rightly, in my mind—that what we need was some sort of group that is dedicated to helping the Health Department in case of emergencies.”
President George W. Bush announced the creation of the USA Freedom Corps in his State of the Union address in 2002, which coordinated among various organizations like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Although that office has since dissolved, some of its legacy remains—such as the Medical Reserve Corps. People who sign up go through a short, online orientation and get a background check, and then they’re ready to be called upon when the community is in need. And about 2,600 people in Loudoun have.
Rath said the COVID-19 pandemic has driven more people to volunteer, more than 1,000 new sign-ups. And a recent call from the state for medical workers has also seen another spike in enrollments—Rath said since Northam announced the expanded vaccine eligibility, another 70 volunteers have signed up.
Medical Reserve Corps volunteers do everything from giving vaccination shots, to organizing parking and lines at mass testing events.
One of those volunteers is Lisa Kimball, who in her day job is the executive director at the nonprofit Arc of Loudoun. She signed on back in 2008, when she was still working at technology company Telos.
“Many years ago, I ran fire and rescue and really enjoyed it, and then as I got older, had a family, got married, it wasn’t something I was able to continue as a volunteer,” Kimball said. “Getting involved in the Medical Reserve Corps is a way to kind of keep engaged in emergency management, and being able to volunteer and give back, and pay it forward in a way that I really enjoy.”
With her experience as an administrator, Kimball helped set up the county’s COVID-19 hotline in March, as well as helping out with mass testing events since.
“I’m certainly not authorized any more to give shots or anything like that, but it’s about making sure that everything is thought through from logistics to traffic to parking, making sure that anyone in and out of any particular mass event gets what they need in the safest and most efficient way possible,” Kimball said.
So many other jobs, she said, come down to working as a translator, sharing information or staffing a phone bank.
“It comes down to, everyone can help, and when you’re a part of it, there’s a lot that you can get out of it as well,” Kimball said. “It benefits everybody.”
Learn more and sign up at loudoun.gov/MRC.