Many people see COVID from and Health Perspective. Emergency Managers are on the front lines of the COVID response. Here is a perspective from one of our local emergency management staff members.
Kendra Tanguay, Pawtucket/Central Falls EMA - It’s difficult to believe that a little over a year ago, our little state, as well as the rest of the country, was rocked by the novel Coronavirus. Within the first week of March of 2020, the first two confirmed cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) were identified in Rhode Island and were traced back to St. Raphael Academy’s school trip to Italy. On March 9, 2020, then-Governor Raimondo declared a state of emergency, and from there, the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt.
By the middle of the month, all schools and colleges closed as well as bars and dine-in restaurants. Shopping complexes like the Providence Place Mall and mass public transit closed. People began stock-piling toilet-paper, hand sanitizer, soap and masks. Stores couldn’t keep product on the shelves long enough before it was immediately purchased. Supermarket shelves became barren of bread, snacks, and non-perishable foods.
On March 20, 2020, the National Guard was activated to assist the state with the ever-growing crisis by delivering food and staffing testing sites across the state. Governor Raimondo issues a “stay at home” order for all Rhode Islanders who were not travelling to purchase food, household supplies, medicine or gas.
March 28, 2020, Rhode Island reports its first two COVID-19 related deaths.
As Emergency Managers, we have been trained to respond to events just like this. But of course, with the disease itself and state regulations constantly changing, we had to learn to adapt and overcome to ensure the best course of action for everyone’s safety.
This first began with testing. Across the state, Emergency Managers began working with local leaders to come up with plans on how to get testing to the high-density communities where COVID was hitting the hardest – communities like Pawtucket and Central Falls. Community leaders and the Pawtucket-Central Falls Emergency Management team, in partnership with the National Guard, Collette Tours and CVS/Pharmacy, came up with the Beat COVID Hotline – a source for residents from both communities to call to schedule an appointment for a rapid COVID test on Dexter Street in Central Falls. Collette Tours stepped up to the challenge of slightly altering their existing infrastructure to meet the needs of the residents in the area struggling to find testing close to them.
“The BEAT COVID-19 initiative is a one-of-a-kind grassroots system to give people in both communities, who otherwise might not feel comfortable getting tested, access to a primary care doctor, testing, educational support on how to safely isolate, and resources to overcome hardships associated with the coronavirus pandemic.” – City of Pawtucket
Testing began to skyrocket across the state, and the number of positive coronavirus cases continued to climb as the months went on. Many who began working from home had to adapt their way of living to accommodate distance learning. Many others lost their jobs. The thought of a vaccine that would be effective enough to ward off symptoms of the virus seemed too far away. But when that time finally came – we were ready.
As word spread about vaccine coming to the state, Emergency Managers began making preparations in their communities. To start, however, the State requested that the vaccine be rolled out in phases. The state was divided among five regions – The Capitol Region, The Northern Region, The Southern Region, Mid-State and the East Bay Regions. First and foremost, the state wanted to begin with those fighting on the front lines -- First Responders.
Under the leadership of Clara Decerbo, Director of Emergency Management for the City of Providence, the cities of Providence, East Providence, North Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls came together under the Capitol Region. Director Decerbo secured a location at the Neutaconkanut Recreation Center on Plainfield Street in Providence. There, EMT’s and Fire Fighters, volunteers, and many others, came together to hold a regional mass vaccination site where all Fire, Police, EMS, EMA, Nurses and many others on the front lines could be among the first to receive the vaccine.
There are always plans in place for mass vaccinations during what has become known as “normal times” for flu vaccine clinics that are most often done in schools. These plans were altered to be able to accommodate the COVID guidance for social distancing and other safety protocols. For mass vaccination clinics such as the Regional PODs, registrants were required to pass a screening test and temperature check prior to entering the building. From there, they were directed to check-in to verify appointment times and to ensure that individuals were linked to a specific organization to receive their vaccine. They then moved on to their vaccination station where they were given the vaccine, and then asked to wait for 15-30 minutes depending on medical history concerns. As the months progressed, through quite a bit of trial and error, these mass vaccination clinics became well-oiled machines.
Now, a little more than a year later, and with almost 400,000 people vaccinated, it looks like the light at the end of this long, dark tunnel is starting to get brighter. Beginning May 28th most venues, such as bars, indoor dining, churches and gyms, will be brought back to full capacity, and we will all get to have the summer that we lost. Still having to wear masks indoors with a minimum 3ft distance seems a small price after having spent so much time apart.