By Steven Coburn-Griffis

sgriffis@putnamsentinel.com

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PUTNAM COUNTY — Over the course of the past 12 months, employees of the county Health Department, Emergency Management Agency, EMS, and county and municipal officials have banded together to battle the single most immediate public health issue of our time: the COVID 19 pandemic.

But, according to those frequenting the front lines of efforts to control the spread, headway wouldn’t have happened without a cadre of behind-the-scenes volunteers. These men and women give of their time and expertise to perform all manner of duties, ranging from appointment scheduling to the administration of vaccines.

And their efforts are taking hold. According to Putnam County EMA Director Mike Klear, Putnam County is among the top ten counties in the state for vaccine distribution. According to statistics compiled by the state, as of Tuesday 6,301 county residents have been vaccinated, with 4,913 (14.51% of residents) receiving their first dose, and 1,388 (4.09%) having received both doses. Overall, the number of Ohioans who have begun vaccinations or are fully vaccinated — 1,324,206 — stands at 11.33%.

Standing in a meeting room turned central ops for vaccination scheduling, Klear offered his take on the matter last Thursday. Around him, volunteers man phone stations, calling county residents over a certain age — that number keeps changing, falling — who have placed their names on a waiting list for vaccination.

“The Health Department’s doing a great job. The volunteers are doing a great job,” Klear said. “Today we’re calling on age groups of 72 and 71 year olds. What the volunteers here are doing is calling out or taking the calls that come in and scheduling for upcoming clinics.”

While ahead of the curve in terms of numbers of residents vaccinated, Klear acknowledged the county has fallen behind with regard to the age groups recommended for contact by the state. That disconnect, likely caused by an aging county population outside the state norm, has created frustration for both residents seeking vaccines and the volunteers handling calls.

“It’s not always easy,” Pam Oglesbee, a retired nurse who volunteers across the gamut of need created by the pandemic, remarked. “I have volunteered for the contact tracing calls, I’ve helped here at the call center making appointments, and then I’ve also given vaccines at the clinics.”

According to Health Commissioner Kim Rieman, Oglesbee is just one of over 100 county residents currently on the Medical Reserve Corps’ roster, a list of volunteers available during medical emergencies compiled by the state. Of those, more than half routinely give of their time.

“This would not have been possible without the volunteers,” Rieman said. “They have done so much, from helping with contact tracing, to helping with our call line, and then, of course, helping on the days of our clinics. It’s just not possible to pull off vaccine clinics and to serve a population in the efficient way that we’ve been able to do so.

“We need them. We have such a small staff at the health department. When you have clinics this large, the volunteers have just been a Godsend. It’s been amazing how well and how smoothly things have run. I can’t take any of the responsibility for that. It really comes from my staff, from the volunteers, and the other agencies. We’re thrilled that we’re able to get so many people vaccinated in such a short period of time, and without the volunteers, I don’t believe it could have happened.”

For the volunteers, their participation takes is born of an equally pragmatic stance.

“I want to help people, and hopefully get this pandemic under control and get back to a little bit of normalcy,” Oglesbee said.