A bright moment for the community

Thu, 02/25/2021 - 5:15pm

If you receive a phone call from Bill McCombe asking your age without first dispensing with the usual niceties, just answer the question. McCombe is co-director of the Emergency Management Task Group, and has taken charge of organizing Covid-19 vaccination events for full-time residents of Block Island.

McCombe has been busy making lists of year-round residents’ ages so that as many as possible can get vaccinated against Covid-19 when doses become available from the Rhode Island Department of Health and are dispensed according to age group.

When Block Island received its first batch, staff at the Medical Center, along with fire, rescue, and police personnel were prioritized. The segment of the population over 90 years of age came next.

On Saturday, Feb. 20 a drive-through vaccination event was held for those 75 years and older. On Monday, Feb. 22, the state opened up the next cohort eligible to receive the vaccine, those 65 and older. And so, with enough new doses, another vaccine event was held the next day.

Although there was a simple form to fill out, there was no need to spend hours on hold to make an appointment through the state; no portals, no crashing websites, no online anything. McCombe does all the work for you. (Although if you have the opportunity to get a shot on the mainland, either at CVS, Walgreens, or through the state’s website, you are encouraged to do so.)

All hands were on deck for the Saturday event. Rescue Captain Tracy Fredericks told The Block Island Times that set-up began at 7:30 a.m. and vaccinations started at 8, continuing into the early afternoon.

Vaccine recipients were asked to approach the vaccination site at Legion Park via Center Road. At the top of the hill, where Beach Avenue meets Center Road, Police Sergeant Joe DeMatteo, on Saturday, waved from his perch in the police pick-up truck – lights flashing – at those entering the area. On Tuesday, Feb. 23, Lieutenant Paul Deane took over the task.

The youngest members of the Fire Department, in full regalia, greeted cars as they rolled down Elephant Hill. They made sure people knew where to go and what to do.

At the bottom of the hill, volunteers with the Fire and Rescue Squad, and staff from the Block Island Medical Center manned a table, handing out and collecting back the paperwork each vaccine recipient filled out. All the while, McCombe shuttled back and forth between table and cars, calling out names of those arriving so others could prepare their paperwork. Every move was planned and well thought out.

The paperwork is a simple onepage form and the questions are mainly about whether you have had an adverse reaction to any recent vaccinations, including a Covid vaccine – in case one is receiving a second dose. Vaccine recipients are also given a card with the person’s name, date, and type of vaccine received. This card should be kept and brought along when the second dose is received. People should also have received a laminated card informing them of the date and time for their second dose. (For those who did not receive the card, or misplaced it, the second appointment will be five weeks after the first, on Saturday, March 27.)

After receiving their shots, grateful, smiling people waited in their vehicles for the required 15 minutes (in case of an adverse reaction) while even more volunteers kept watch over them, casually chatting, as neighbors are wont to do, but haven’t been able to for almost a year.

Regarding Saturday’s highly successful event, that had 200 people receiving shots, McCombe said: “It was a bright spot for the community,” especially after the past few weeks. “We’re getting back to doing what we do best – being a community.”

McCombe told The Times there are many people to thank and recognize for making it all happen, besides the firemen, rescue squad, and Medical Center - Bain Transue and Charlie Weber for making available and opening up Legion Hall; David Lamb and Will Murray for supplying a van for use as a mobile office; and Josh, Sue, and Ray Linda, owners of Interstate Navigation for supplying transportation and for being supportive in many other ways, including freeing up time for McCombe to organize and conduct the events. McCombe also wants to give a shout out to Kyra Ernst who has volunteered her time with the EMA while attending school.