A group of nearly 60 volunteers quietly have worked at Dubuque County’s vaccination clinic site at Kennedy Mall since its inception, playing a critical role.

Since the site opened in the former Younkers women’s store in February, this volunteer corps has put in more than 1,000 hours of work.

That is $25,000 worth of donated time, according to City of Dubuque Public Health Specialist Mary Rose Corrigan.

“They take a huge burden off of our incident command system and manage a really important component of the (point-of-distribution vaccination site),” she said. “They can provide services at the POD that we could not — that personal advice to navigate the process, that personal touch for people there being vaccinated who really need that.”

The volunteers are the first faces one sees when entering the site. Positioned just inside the front door, they serve as magnanimous gatekeepers to the clinic beyond.

“Hello. How are you feeling?” volunteer Jack Galle asked people as they arrived for their vaccination appointments Tuesday morning.

It might seem like a simple greeting, but it is part of the screening process the volunteers handle for the site. Galle proceeded to ask each arrival if they had experienced symptoms of COVID-19 or been exposed to anyone with it recently.

If the arrival answers ‘no,’ Galle waves them to the table behind him with a big gesture. There, another volunteer gets the arrival’s name and which provider they are there to see.

These volunteers work in teams of varying sizes, according to UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital’s Marie Zoromski, who manages the volunteer program.

“On a day like last Friday, we had 1,150 people come through here for five providers,” she said. “So, we had six or seven volunteers working. On quieter days, we’ll have about three.”

The teams work in shifts — 7:30 to 11 a.m., 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 2 to 6 p.m. — to ensure constant coverage. To avoid scheduling snafus, volunteers have to sign a form stating that they will be available to fill time slots when called upon.

“We all have to work at least 20 hours for the program,” said volunteer Catherine Basten on Tuesday. “And all of us here have worked well more than that.”

Corrigan said that because of the gravity of the situation, they needed a volunteer group that was dependable.

“We want predictability — that if they are going to sign up for this, they’re going to be there,” she said.

Basten is happy in her role and knows the space well. She said she was part of the initial staff who “unboxed” the Younkers store when it opened more than 50 years prior.

“It’s funny how people come in and have happy memories about the place,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, Medical Associates is in the shoe department.’ It helps some of them, I think.”

Anything to boost morale helps because the process has not been smooth for some.

“We’ve had to help a lot of them who came at the wrong time or on the wrong day,” said volunteer Sue Galle.

Since most of the people who so far have qualified for the vaccine by state standards are 65 or older, and since many providers worked from the oldest down in that group, mobility has occasionally been an issue. So, one of the volunteers’ other jobs is helping those who need it into the facility. A fleet of wheelchairs, brought by the providers and the Dubuque County Health Department, sit inside the front door.

“As sloppy as it was today, thank goodness we haven’t had to use them,” Jack Galle said, peering through the doors’ glass panes at this week’s snow.

According to Zoromski, the vast majority of this volunteer crew are senior citizens themselves. That put many in the high-risk category for COVID-19. But in the beginning, they still showed up, helping those groups who qualified for the vaccine first.

“We offered vaccination to people volunteering as soon as we could,” Corrigan said. “But it was not a requirement that they be vaccinated before they started working because we had to start somewhere. Luckily, the space also provides a level of safety for the volunteers, the providers and the patients.”

All the volunteers working Tuesday said that, by then, they had all received at least one dose.

This volunteer facet of the county’s COVID-19 response is also not new. It is a component of the Dubuque County incident command. Volunteers even train during practice emergencies between the real deals.

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