Oregon National Guard joins mass vaccination effort in Salem

The National Guard is helping with an event at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in an effort to speed up the vaccination process.

Posted: Jan 13, 2021 12:43 PM

SALEM, Ore. — Members of the Oregon National Guard are now deployed at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem, aiding with an effort to speed up COVID-19 vaccinations that is likely to expand to other sites around the state over the next several months.

Guardsmen joined Salem Health staff at the fairgrounds on Tuesday, charged with assisting in vaccine distribution. The initial effort involves more that 40 medical personnel from the Guard.

Salem Health began the mass vaccination effort just over a week prior. Since January 7, the National Guard reports that just over 8,500 vaccinations were administered — jumping to more than 10,000 after Guardsmen arrived.

Salem Health Hospitals and Clinics led the push to establish a vaccine distribution site after realizing that they would not be able to vaccinate enough people under the former, internal system. The State Fairgrounds site is the first of its kind in the state.

“We are the only mass vaccination clinic set up,” said Cheryl Nester Wolfe, President and CEO of the medical provider. “We have somewhere around 50,000 people to vaccinate in Marion County alone.”

Wolfe and her team chose the Oregon State Fairgrounds due to current busing route access, the central location for Marion County residents, the large building and plentiful parking. It was also established as an alternative hospital location in March of 2020 when the state's COVID-19 response got underway.

Amie Wittenberg, Director of the Emergency Department, Trauma and Psychiatric Services at Salem Hospital and the Operations Section Chief for the vaccination response, brought her team to the site in order to set up safety and health protocols once the plan was in place.

“Once we heard the site location was confirmed, we came down to the building to see what tools we had,” said Wittenberg. “We started dreaming up our plan starting with the essentials: screening to ensure COVID safety measures were in place, a registration area, a vaccination prep station, a vaccination station, and finally, a process to identify post vaccination monitoring.”

Salem Health staff working on vaccinations at the Fairgrounds are still juggling their hospital jobs in addition, and the Guard's presence has helped to take on some of the workload. Governor Kate Brown announced the activation of Guard resources on January 8, and it came as a relief for Salem Health.

“We need Guardsmen to help with giving vaccinations, we need help with security and parking, we need everything,” said Wolfe. “When I heard the Governor announce the Guard was coming to help, it was just a blessing.”

Guardsmen arrived at the Fairgrounds on the morning of January 12. By noon, they were ready to begin preparing and giving vaccinations, processing individuals on the electronic medical record system, monitoring the post vaccination area, monitoring controlled entry and exit points, and assisting with vehicle and foot traffic control.

“When we heard there was a potential to partner with the Guard and to actually work together… it’s a once in a life time opportunity,” said Wittenberg. “Since February, we have worked and served at all different levels. It’s been a lot. To have the Guard’s partnership, you can’t put a price on it.”

The Oregon National Guard has been helping with PPE distribution in the state's pandemic response since March of 2020.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 133851

Reported Deaths: 1803
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah28467459
Washington18734171
Marion16247239
Clackamas11698138
Lane8353109
Jackson693085
Umatilla679368
Deschutes499936
Yamhill319045
Malheur313552
Linn311646
Polk245540
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Josephine174333
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Jefferson170525
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Lincoln99617
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Morrow93810
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Baker5685
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Lake2305
Grant2131
Harney1754
Wallowa963
Gilliam511
Sherman470
Wheeler201
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Contra Costa52965450
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Monterey36126255
San Mateo32596309
San Francisco29321262
Solano25806106
Imperial25317465
Santa Barbara25083236
Merced24452308
Sonoma24068240
Kings19435145
Placer17380180
San Luis Obispo15929136
Madera13443151
Santa Cruz12298113
Marin11693157
Yolo10620131
Shasta9776122
Butte9474123
El Dorado782644
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San Benito496343
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Tehama397142
Tuolumne338240
Nevada320673
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Amador301631
Lake261230
Humboldt239324
Glenn193519
Colusa17339
Calaveras161723
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Mono11214
Inyo97429
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