WINDSOR – As it usually does, a time of crisis revealed why Bertie County is a great place to live.

With the COVID-19 pandemic raging in the county, there came welcome news of a vaccine which would help alleviate the symptoms of the disease and likely keep people safe from the worst of the Coronavirus.

The only issue was how to distribute the vaccine in the most efficient way possible.

The vaccine was issued to Albemarle Regional Health Services, of which Bertie County is a member, and the organization reached out to Bertie County for assistance.

Bertie Emergency Services Director Mitch Cooper said the group immediately identified some concerns, including needing to keep people in their vehicles, give them shots and monitor them for 15 minutes.

“After discussions with all parties involved, we decided the high school/middle school area was the most efficient place to allow for a steady flow and reduced waiting times,” he said.

Bertie County Schools Superintendent Dr. Otis Smallwood said he was happy to work with ARHS and the other agencies to allow the use of Bertie High School and Bertie Middle School.

“Trying to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 was an essential factor of getting kids back into the school building safely,” Dr. Smallwood said. “So we didn’t think twice about partnering with the county and Albemarle Regional Health to provide adequate space at Bertie High and Bertie Middle schools that was needed to safely vaccinate hundreds of our citizens and families.”

Cooper said the vaccinations required the use of staff from Bertie Emergency Services, Bertie County Sheriff’s Office, ARHS, Roanoke Chowan Community College nursing classes, N.C. Air National Guard, Midway-Merry Hill Fire Department, Vidant Bertie Hospital and Bertie High School.

Cooper said he was more than satisfied with the way things turned out.

“I am very proud of what the team accomplished,” he insisted. “It’s heart-breaking that this will be a historical moment in all our lives, but our staff stepped up to the call over a year ago to continue providing emergency health care to the citizens of Bertie County in the middle of a global pandemic.

“And all while responding to everyday calls that you are now concerned about exposure to the virus,” he added. “And without losing momentum, they assisted in administering the vaccine so we can all return to something somewhat normal.”

Cooper, who had a beautiful daughter during the clinics, expressed his gratitude to his staff – particularly EMS Chief Crystal Freeman, Administrative Assistant Victoria Hoggard, Captain Christi Cordon and Captain Beth Jones – for their work in his absence.

“Thanks to those folks, I was able to take some time and enjoy the early moments with my daughter,” he said. “They made sure things ran smoothly and things got done.”

Bertie County Sheriff John Holley said he and Cooper have an excellent working relationship, and he was glad to provide deputies to assist when asked to do so.

“I think it all went very well,” he said. “Whenever Mitch asks for our assistance, we try to accommodate whatever he needs. In this case, we were proud to be a part of the team that is working to make COVID-19 less of a factor in our everyday lives.”

Bertie County Manager Juan Vaughan II said the citizens of Bertie County were always at the forefront of the focus of the organizations involved.

“This is a great example of organizations coming together for the safety and protection of citizens,” he said. “We are happy to partner with Albemarle Regional Health Services to get our population vaccinated. The professionalism and efficiency shown have been remarkable.”

ARHS Health Director Battle Betts agreed.

“The teamwork and partnerships in Bertie County have been wonderful,” Betts said. “From the health department, to EMS, law enforcement, school system, volunteers and many others, there has been hard work and dedication.”

Betts also thanked Bertie County Commissioner and ARHS Board Member Tammy Lee for being actively involved in the mass clinics.

“Overall, it has been a great thing,” he added.

For her part, Lee said she was proud of all involved.

“Mitch Cooper and his staff, in collaboration with Albemarle Regional Health Services and the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office have done a phenomenal job at our COVID-19 mass vaccination clinics,” said Lee, who serves as Chair of the county commissioners. “From the very beginning, when none of the other counties had the process of giving hundreds of vaccinations a day, Bertie County went to work.”

Lee said the county had excellent volunteers who worked in the cold, the heat and the rain.

“The Bertie County Commissioners are very grateful to all who had a part in this endeavor,” she added. “We are also grateful for the patience of our citizens on the days of the clinics.”

Windsor/Bertie Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lewis Hoggard said the work of the county and ARHS were directly responsible for allowing businesses and organizations to reopen.

“ARHS, Mitch and the Bertie County EMS, Sheriff Holley and his staff and Dr. Smallwood and his staff should all be commended,” Hoggard said. “Because of their diligence, intelligence and hard work, we are heading toward a more normal life again.”

Thadd White is Editor of the Bertie Ledger-Advance and can be reached via email at twhite@ncweeklies.com.