Calaveras County had successfully administered over 12,000 vaccines to eligible groups across the county by March 8. Demand, however, continued to exceed the number of trained and available personnel to administer the shots.

Luckily, a team of travel nurses and aides arrived to help with vaccinations at the newly designated center at the Calaveras County Fairgrounds.

For decades, travel nurses have flown across the country to aid hospitals struggling with nursing shortages and to help overburdened health systems. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, as of mid-March, the California Department of Public Health deployed nearly 2,000 travel nurses across the state to help with COVID-19 vaccinations. 

“They have witnessed golden California — the fifth-largest economy in the world — in its most fragile state,” says Brittny Mejia of the Los Angeles Times.

The Calaveras County Visitors Bureau wasn’t going to let this team of nurses and aides go without offering them a proper welcome, as well as a well-deserved “thank you.” A trip to quintessential Calaveras Big Trees State Park maybe? What about a little wine tasting? How about a community picnic with a few local guests and noted county and city officials?

The plan was grand, but it had to be enacted quickly. Many of the visiting nurses and aides would only be here for another week. Their weekdays were heavily scheduled getting shots in the arms of as many eager participants as possible. Saturday, March 27, provided the only window of opportunity. There were only 12 hours available to put the plan into action.  

It would get pulled off, but not without challenges. Transportation would be the hardest part to coordinate. Thankfully, Common Ground out of San Andreas came through and offered the use of two shuttle buses. But what about drivers? That’s where friends come in.

Locals Karen and Wayne Bester were quick to offer their services. Wayne later stated, as a first time shuttle-bus driver, how interesting it was to navigate the curves and steep grades from Sonora to Highway 4 in a weighty large vehicle loaded with passengers.   

Ironstone Vineyards stepped up to offer a last-minute tour and group wine tasting. And longtime Calaveras resident and historian Judith Marvin helped to gather an additional band of volunteers and community members to join the welcome and thank you committee. 

March 27 arrived very soon, with a magnificent spring day. As numerous selfies will attest, members of the travel nurse team got to marvel at the giant trees in the morning, sip wine (the sweeter the better, they noted) at a daffodil-lined winery mid-day, enjoy pizza and some Sauvignon Blanc donated from Newsome Harlow followed by a tour of the Angels Camp Museum and Calaveras Visitor Center. 

I joined them that afternoon to offer a personal thank you. While picnicking, between bites of pizza and a sip of wine, I introduced myself to a nurse seated next to me. She told me her name was Tiffany, and that she was from Mobile, Alabama. Thankfully, she said, her family had made it safely through the massive tornado that had hit just days early. I asked if the work she was doing here and with the pandemic was exhausting. She nodded her head yes, but added, “It’s really okay though. Because we’re making history. We’re all a part of history, and that’s good.”

To end the celebration, the nurses and aides were honored by a few words of welcome from County Supervisor and Board Chair Merita Callaway, followed by a heartfelt thanks from Sam Leach, the interim director of the county Health and Human Services Agency. With notable emotion, Leach shared a feeling of relief in the presence and deeply needed assistance of these visiting nurses and aides.

All in all, a small-town, big-hearted thank you, indeed.  

On Monday, it has been reported that Calaveras broke through the 20,000 vaccines threshold.

Sally Kaplan is a resident of Arnold.

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