The hundreds of volunteers who drove Grays Harbor County’s COVID-19 pandemic response were honored at the Emergency Preparedness Expo in South Aberdeen on Saturday.
“I’ve been in medicine for a little over 50 years, and in that time I’ve seen a lot of things. What we’ve seen over the past two years is really unprecedented, and involved not only our county or state, but the world,” said County Health Officer Dr. John Bausher.
“And as I went down to the mass vaccination site, all I can say is, Grays Harbor, you answered the bell. You stood there in the rain, in the sleet, it was amazing.”
The mass vaccination site at the Port of Grays Harbor was established in January. By the time it closed in May, more than 19,000 doses were delivered, and more than 9,700 people were vaccinated, thanks in large part to 2,860 volunteer hours.
“I got to start here in March of this year and be included in one of the best and most organized mass vaccination clinics I’ve ever seen,” said Grays Harbor County Public Health Director Mike McNickle. “Having been through swine flu and other smaller issues in the past, this was the most impressive and most dedicated effort I’ve ever seen. This could not have been done without our volunteers.”
Sheriff Rick Scott quickly put together an incident management team to oversee the county’s COVID-19 response early in the pandemic. Even with a solid staff like Scott’s, he said he’s dependent upon the help of the community to get things done.
“Not just when we’re dealing with a pandemic, because that was a first for me in my 44 years of being at the Sheriff’s Office,” he said, “but in all the other things we deal with on a regular basis, whether it’s a man-made disaster, whether it’s a natural disaster, a flood, earthquake, wind storms, all those things that we’ve dealt with over the years, my efforts as director of the Department of Emergency Management are entirely dependent upon how many volunteers we can get to help people when bad things happen.”
Scott gave the example of, while he was Undersheriff, the 2009 search for then-missing Lindsey Baum in McCleary, who was later discovered to have been kidnapped and murdered by a still-unknown person or persons.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that for every cop that I had working in McCleary that entire summer, I had two or three volunteers. There were hundreds if not close to thousands of volunteers turning McCleary upside down, meeting people, taking care of people working tirelessly in that investigation,” said Scott.
The pandemic response was the same — a community rallying to help each other in a scary, unprecedented situation.
“Normally, we’re dealing with an emergency that you can see,” said Scott. “When the wind blows, the trees go down. When there’s an earthquake, the ground shakes, and everybody kind of understands what’s happening and what to do. We had a pandemic hit, and I had no idea what to do. So I founded a policy group, which was basically gathering people that are a lot smarter than I am, to figure out what we needed to do to try to deal with this situation and keep people alive and safe.”
That was the incident management team, which led the county’s response efforts.
County Commissioner Vickie Raines, part of that team, was unable to attend the event Saturday, but sent a message saying, in part, “We truly have the best team of folks here in Grays Harbor who came together for our mass vaccination clinic earlier this year.”
She acknowledged the many partnerships that made it happen, and noted the “clinic drew attention from across the state with others acknowledging that in rural Grays Harbor we had an awesome team that was getting the job done.”
Raines continued, “Our volunteers are amazing, from those responsible for the clinic’s creation and implementation as well as scheduling vaccine appointments, checking people in, directing traffic, registering, administering vaccines, and may other duties.”
Grays Harbor County Emergency Management Deputy Director Hannah Cleverly asked volunteers in attendance to raise their hands to be recognized. Each was given a gift bag as a small token of appreciation for their efforts.