AUGUSTA, NJ (Sussex County) – Several members of Sussex County’s Board of County Commissioners and the County Administrator toured the vaccination site together at the Sussex County Fairgrounds on Thursday with Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill
Commissioners Chris Carney, Sylvia Petillo and Herbert Yardley participated in the tour, led by Administrator Greg Poff, with Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, D-11th Dist. and members of her staff, also joining the group. Hopatcong Mayor Michael Francis and Fairgrounds Manager Michael Richards, who retired in 2019 as Newton’s Police Chief, additionally joined the tour.
The drive-through site, which passes through the Richards Building – named after Richards’ grandfather – began administering 500 first doses of the Moderna vaccine when it first opened up in January. With Richards’ valuable background as a police chief, he and the Farm and Horse Show Association and its directors agreed to open the Fairgrounds and have worked with the county to facilitate the site operations. Although the site has the capacity to vaccinate up to 1,200 every week, the county receives 1,000 doses weekly through its distribution from the State of New Jersey, of 500 first doses and 500 second doses each.
An individual who comes to the site, initially pre-registers for their first dose online or if they are a senior requiring assistance, they can coordinate registration through Sussex County’s Division of Senior Services. Poff said each week 200 first doses are reserved for seniors. On the day of their vaccine appointment, a person is first checked in via security and medical checkpoints, then ushered into the Richards Building in their vehicle, where they receive an injection while remaining in their vehicle.
After a person is inoculated, they are asked to park in either the 15-minute or 30-minute areas of the parking lot, where they are monitored by teams of Emergency Medical Technicians and other volunteers, in case of a reaction to the vaccine.
“During the week of March 22, the site passed the 10,000 mark, in the number of vaccines that have been administered there overall,” Poff said.
On Wednesday the county received favorable news, Poff announced during the tour, that it would soon be receiving another 500 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The state previously sent the county 200 doses, which have already been administered to homebound seniors and Meals on Wheels recipients. The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a more portable one, that can be brought to those with difficulties leaving their homes.
Poff introduced those on the tour to employees at the site from the Division of Health, Public Health Nursing, Office of Emergency Management and the Sussex County’s Sheriff’s Office, as well as the site’s volunteers. The visitors walked around the Richards Building and Fairgrounds to thank those assisting in the efforts in all capacities.
“We really are so fortunate with the number of volunteers we have here, we wouldn’t be able to do it without them,” Poff said.
“I was amazed by the Fairgrounds vaccination site, a smoothly run operation,” Carney said. “Amazed and proud of the 30 to 40 volunteers daily, who give their time during the pandemic.”
“It was also nice to meet and to see our Congresswoman, Mikie Sherrill, take interest in the site,” Carney said.
“I want to thank Mike Richards and the Fairgrounds Board of Directors for letting this operation take place,” Carney said.
“It’s really good when our Congressional representatives take time to review the activities and services the county provides,” Yardley – a retired health officer and volunteer at the site – said about Sherrill’s visit. “The staff and volunteers at the vaccination site appreciated her [Sherrill’s] visit. I’m glad that she got to see an outstanding vaccination operation that has received many positive reviews from the county residents.”
It was Petillo’s first time visiting the site, having had her own vaccine at an indoor location, which she described as “complicated and complex, with so many experiences,” to navigate.
“I understand why this vaccination site has received so many compliments,” Petillo said. “It’s easy to use, safe and well-organized, with fast and efficient service for the residents.”
Sherrill also said she was impressed with the vaccine site, especially the drive-thru option, with the eastern part of her district having only indoor facilities; and she complimented the county’s strides in vaccinating as many residents as they have to date.
“When you look at how quickly people are getting vaccinated and March has just ended, it’s very amazing,” Sherrill said of the efforts.
Carney and Richards spoke with Sherrill about the potential that the New Jersey State Fair at the Sussex County Fairgrounds could take place in 2021, with it canceled in 2020. It is scheduled between August 7 through 14. Sherrill said she would gather as much information as possible to speak to Gov. Phil Murphy, to advocate for the county.
“It [the Fair] brings a lot of people here to Sussex County,” Carney said. “If the fair gets effected, it effects a lot of businesses and non-profits in the area.”