By Casey Ruud
In Nogales, Arizona, an amazing effort is happening to protect the community by getting its people vaccinated.
On a Thursday in February, my wife, Laura, and I showed up to volunteer for 64 hours (eight 8-hour days each) to earn our vaccine shots. We both expected it to be a boring, drudgery task. And after isolating this past year, we worried it could be potentially unsafe.
Instead, we found a well-oiled machine with health and safety experts working feverishly, supported by over 100 volunteers, to pull off this critical battle against COVID-19. Every person was performing as though this was a race against time — which it is.
Nogales, in Santa Cruz County, is a border town with Mexico and made up of almost all Hispanic folks. Many families are multi-generational and hit hard by COVID-19. The county was offering vaccines to those 75 and older and essential workers in the town’s recreation center.
My first job was as a parking flagger and greeter. As cars pulled in to park, drivers rolled down their car window so I could check they had an appointment and ask if they needed handicapped parking. One man in his 30s told me a heart-wrenching story.
He said his mother and father both got the “rona,” became very sick, and were hospitalized. They were isolated. No one in the family could see them. His mother died alone. His father eventually fought off the horrible impact to his lungs. His dad was in our COVID vaccine center getting his first shot as his son shared his story with me. He was so sad that no one in the family could be with his mother as she passed. I knew in that moment I was part of a team trying to save lives.
Saving the stickies
After receiving shots in a makeshift area on one side of the gym, a volunteer hands them off with a yellow or pink sticky with a time written on it, to a team of nurses and paramedics to guide them to a seat in the end of the gym to wait the required 15 minutes (or 30 minutes if they are allergic to certain medications).
This section is run by three school nurses. Once a person is seated, the nurse puts the sticky on the back of their chair. After the nurse verifies the person or couple does not have a reaction to the shot and their waiting period is over, the vaccinated people can leave. The nurse then moves the sticky from the back of the chair to the seat so the sanitation team knows which chairs to clean.
My job, when assigned to this section, was to wipe down each seat with a paper towel soaked in a quaternary solution that kills the virus. I treated each chair as though it was smothered with virus. The motto here was we wanted no chance for the “rona” to get a foothold and spread its evil self.
I collected the stickies for several days and ended up with hundreds, each with a time written on it. To me, each one of the stickies represents one or two lives saved from COVID-19. Due to privacy laws, names and photos of people getting vaccinated cannot be shared, but these simple little stickies tell the story of real people fighting alongside their neighbors to live another day. This vaccination center saved 500 to 600 people a day.
The management team led by Ray and Marilyn works tirelessly to put a team together that changes every day and is constantly improving. My wife and I were rewarded by earning our vaccine shots. But way more than that we were given the gift of being, for 64 hours, witness to and part of the solution to this pandemic that has been killing so many in our communities.
After a year of isolation, and news filled with fear and anger, our spirits were dragging for sure. This experience has rejuvenated our faith in humanity. We gained a sense of purpose that was desperately missing for us this past year. Never would I have thought we would find so much love in an Arizona border town in the middle of a pandemic. The gift of giving still works.
Casey and Laura Ruud moved to the Methow Valley 20 years ago. Last known jobs were owners at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery, where many beers were served. They now spend winters in Tucson, Arizona, playing and making Native American style flutes, bike riding and hiking.