The online process to register for the COVID-19 vaccination may be a breeze for some, but a nightmare for others.
Since last month, Widewater Supervisor Tinesha Allen, along with hundreds of other local volunteers, has been helping the elderly, lower-income residents and those without an internet connection to get on the waiting list.
“A lot of them are not tech-savvy,” said Allen. “The only way we can get out of this pandemic is by working together.”
Allen worked with Commissioner of the Revenue Scott Mayausky, George Washington District Supervisor Tom Coen and Fire Chief Joseph Cardello to spearhead a countywide campaign to help citizens register at the state’s COVID-19 vaccine website that débuted Tuesday.
The first salvo of the county outreach campaign was fired this week.
Mayausky mailed a flyer, in English and Spanish, to more than 1,100 citizens enrolled in the county’s tax relief program for the elderly and disabled.
“People don’t think there’s a lot of poverty in Stafford, and maybe in terms of percentage of population there isn’t, but there’s real, real poverty,” said Mayausky. “There are some folks who really need help.”
He said for many families in the financial assistance program, the flyer may be the first time they have ever received any information explaining who to contact for the vaccine.
“I’m going to put my efforts into getting to them as much information as we can and give them as much help as possible,” said Mayausky.
The flyer, which county officials also sent to 3,131 members of the Rowser Senior Citizen Center, contains information how to register for the vaccine, including the state website and a phone number where Virginia Department of Health volunteers are helping people through the vaccine registration process.
On Tuesday, County Administrator Fred Presley told supervisors he is looking into additional options to help residents, including hiring rideshare companies to help transport people to vaccination sites. Presley said eventually, the county will set up a central location to serve as a mass vaccination site.
Cardello said about a dozen advanced life support specialists in his organization have received training to administer the vaccine, and he hopes to add more first responders to the list soon.
In the southern portion of the county, Coen is focusing efforts on places of worship to help at-risk parishioners get registered.
Coen, who takes care of his 87-year-old mother at home, said he empathizes with Stafford’s older population, who are struggling to get through the process.
“I have a lot of constituents who are elderly, and it just seems the commonwealth keeps making mistakes and errors,” said Coen. “Somebody just needs to step up and fix it, and it just seems to make sense that we do something.”
Coen acknowledges there are several volunteer organizations helping people address their concerns, but he said Stafford can do more to focus on one common cause.
“People are in their own little spheres doing stuff, but there is no impetus to bring everybody together to get this moving in a more cohesive manner,” said Coen. “It just made sense to pool our resources and think smarter about this.”
Allen said the county’s desire to step up and help is shared by everyone in the county.
“All of us have a clear concern for the issue,” said Allen. “Why not put all our heads together and utilize all of our resources effectively?”
While Coen covers southern Stafford churches, Allen will lead a similar outreach effort in North Stafford, in addition to her volunteer duties at the health department.
Allen is one of nearly 900 volunteers from a pool of over 1,600 in the Rappahannock Area and Rappahannock–Rapidan health districts who answer phones and perform other duties associated with the pandemic.
“I answer phone calls related to the vaccination process, COVID testing, how to register for the vaccine … anything COVID-related, that’s primarily my job,” said Allen.
Jessica Conner, the medical reserve corps coordinator for the health districts, oversees the pool of volunteers in nine counties along with Fredericksburg.
“We have a lot of older individuals who, for a variety of reasons, are not able to sign up online,” said Conner. “If they call in, we fill out the form for them.”
She said volunteers are also answering a mountain of questions regarding the vaccine, monitoring patients after they have received their shots, assisting at drive-thru testing locations, administering vaccines and much more.
“Some clinics are vaccinating up to 880 citizens a day,” said Conner. “We couldn’t do this without volunteers.”
Allen, who is scheduled to graduate in May from Shenandoah University with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, has volunteered at the Virginia Department of Health since January as part of her educational journey. Along with Coen, she plans to hold virtual town hall meetings in her district to raise awareness of COVID vaccine availability and will soon go door to door with information on the registration process and the vaccine.
“It doesn’t matter where in the county you live, you’re still part of Stafford,” said Allen. “If we’re not trying our best to make sure that everyone is reached, then in my opinion, we’re not doing a good job.”
To register for the COVID-19 vaccination, visit vaccinate.virginia.gov. To learn more about volunteer duties and responsibilities, visit vdh.virginia.gov/mrc/covid-19volunteer. To register as a volunteer, visit vvhs.vamrc.org.
James Scott Baron: 540/374-5438