REDMOND — Wind whipped jackets open and tugged papers attached to clipboards as a line of people snaked around the edge of a building at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center. If it wasn’t for the masks and the 6-foot distance between each person, it could have been a line to enter a rodeo or an exhibit. There was nothing that underscored the importance of the event: getting a vaccine.
“We get a lot of people who feel relieved,” said Holle Galyon, a volunteer. “We love helping people get back to normal. I love the energy. It’s like Disneyland for adults.”
Since the mass vaccination clinic opened at the fairgrounds the week of Jan. 18, about 76,498 Central Oregon residents have been through to receive a vaccine, according to Deschutes County Health Services, which teamed up with St. Charles Health System to run the clinic.
Bashia McCarthy, a Bend resident and vaccination clinic volunteer, said she focuses on making people feel good about what they’re doing.
She does that by looking up from the paperwork and connecting with the residents coming in for their vaccines.
At various checkpoints, people made their way past orange-vested volunteers who waved them through. People arrived on time or early.
The clinic could get busier depending on how many vaccines are sent out by the Oregon Health Authority. As of Monday, anyone age 16 and older is now able to sign up for a vaccination. To register, go to centraloregoncovidvaccine.com.
Those without internet access can call 541-699-5109.
On any given day, there are about 180 volunteers plus 30 U.S. Army National Guard members and 30 staffers from St. Charles, Volunteers in Medicine and the county, said Hayley Rich, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Services coordinator.
There are two shifts per day, about 5½ hours each, Rich said.
Volunteers are crucial to running the mass vaccination program. From the parking lot to the respite area, the entire process is organized each morning and volunteers are assigned different areas. Some volunteers come back repeatedly, like Galyon.
It’s the volunteers who make the process of administering thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccines to people in a 10-hour day run smoothly, said John Allen, a Deschutes County Health Services contact tracer assigned to organize the volunteers.
For most, it takes 45 minutes from parking their car to sitting in the respite area for 15 minutes after getting their vaccines.
On a recent day, Allen addressed a large group of orange-vested volunteers whose job it was to maintain flow through lines and operations.
“Most of you have been here before,” Allen said. “We have a full complement of volunteers for the morning shift. Volunteers need to wear a mask and wear it in the proper fashion around the patients.
“It’s an example we’re setting for the patients.”
Inside the cavernous expo building, 30 vaccination tables were equally spaced apart and manned by green-vested volunteers where the vaccines were delivered. First, everyone goes to a registration table where blue-vested volunteers like Galyon and McCarthy work.
Galyon, a retired chemical engineer, is among many volunteers who come repeatedly. She’s been there before the 10 a.m. opening 16 times. Volunteers arrive early, grab a bottle of water or a cup of coffee and wait inside a tent to get an assignment. Each volunteers for a job and some offer to stay the entire day.
Each day the vaccination clinic finds something new to tweak: Post a volunteer at a bottleneck here, have another keep the line moving and maintain 6-foot spacing in the queue inside, or designate a volunteer to greet people, said Allen. In a separate room at the Expo Center, people who’ve had their shots sit in rows of green chairs that are evenly spaced apart where they are monitored by blue-vested volunteers.
Wednesday was Shannon Bergstedt’s first time volunteering at the clinic. A retired registered nurse, Bergstedt was manning a post that directed people to the area where they could sit for the required 15 minutes while they are observed for any reactions to the vaccination.
“I volunteer a lot,” Bergstedt said. “I try to give back, and I have skills they can use.”
Samantha Freson, a 26-year-old Bend resident was in the respite area after getting her first vaccination. She, like many others, was on her phone waiting for the time to pass before she could leave.
She knew what to expect of the vaccination clinic, but was still impressed by how smoothly everything went.
“It went pretty swiftly,” Freson said. “It feels good to get the vaccine. There are lots of people here offering to help or answer questions.
“I had been anxious about getting my vaccine. I had put my name on every list. I wanted to get the vaccine. To me, it’s like any other vaccination. It’s an extra safeguard.”