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Michigan National Guard
Story by Staff Sgt. Tegan Kucera
The Michigan National Guard was on hand at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi on March 20, 2021, for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic that vaccinated more than 4,200 Oakland County residents; primarily the elderly, health care workers, and teachers.
“To get the teachers vaccinated and the kids back in school will be a really good thing, especially for the next school year,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Eric Henry, a team leader with Task Force Red Lion.
Red Lion is a COVID-19 response task force assembled by the Michigan National Guard to assist county health departments with vaccines. In order to help with the magnitude of the Novi clinic, along with the local health department, there were about 30 stations providing vaccinations throughout the day.
“It feels good to be on this side of actually stopping the virus,” said Henry. “It’s good to know I’m helping to get the vaccine out, so at some point we can get to some type of normal.”
Henry has seen the effects of the coronavirus since it showed up in Michigan in March 2020. As a Detroit firefighter, he was on the front lines when the virus started to ravage the city last year.
“I like the category process because first, you’ve got our senior population vaccinated because they are the most vulnerable,” said Henry. “Then our teachers get the vaccine so our kids can get back to normal, and then opening up to 50 and above with pre-existing conditions, and more and more. I think the plan is great.”
Henry is not only a Soldier and a firefighter, he is also a husband and father. Getting his children back to school is a priority for him because while his family has found ways to work within the current system of on-line learning, normal in classroom learning is altogether better for them.
“The uncertainty of it all is making it disjointed—the whole academic experience because we’re always playing it by ear of when is it safe, what we can do, what can we not do,” said Chris Samul, who is a high school math teacher. “It’s made it hard to have any kind of continuity and flow to the school year.”
Samul has seen how his school has been able to make it through this school year. They are holding classes in larger venues, like the dining hall, for proper social distancing. In order for the kids to get a better in-school experience next year, Samul and many of his colleagues went to the mass vaccination event in Novi.
“It’s the right thing to do. I trust science and I trust that this is a legitimate preventative measure,” he said.
Others were relieved at the opportunity to receive the vaccine.
“It’s exhilarating and exhausting all at once,” said Kate Guzman, administrator of medical services for the clinic. “As a public health department, we’re so excited to protect our community and every shot that we get into a person’s arm here means that they are that much closer to a level of protection against the coronavirus. That keeps us going, and it keeps us motivated.”
Guzman, a medical chief with the Oakland County Health Division, is excited to have these large clinics because they help to protect her community. Additionally, the county is still providing testing and contact tracing for COVID-19, and performing other duties such as testing and contact tracing for other diseases, home visits, children’s special health care services, as well as environmental health duties like looking for lead in the water and mitigating the effects.
“There’s still a lot that we’re maintaining, so even though we are one of the larger health departments in Michigan, the assistance from the National Guard is crucial,” said Guzman. “We have been blown away by their level of professionalism, when they come in the door and just get to work—they know the job, they know what to do and they get right into it.”
“The compliments that I get from my staff and patients alike just blow me away we’ve had such a great experience with the National Guard,” she said.Holding clinics where the health department vaccinates more than 4,000 residents and other smaller clinics across Oakland County, she says there is still no cause for celebration.
“It’s a very stark reminder that only a tiny percentage of us have been vaccinated,” Guzman said. “Only 18 percent of Michiganders have been vaccinated with both doses so there is only a small group who have been protected.”
“We need to be adamant about mask wearing, socially distancing and not gathering together,” she said.