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Rural WNC Counties Vaccinate First Responders For COVID-19

Melissa McKnight/Jackson Public Health
Jackson County Emergency Management, Harris Regional EMS, Glenville Cashiers EMS, Jackson County Public Health Department and Jackson Rec Center partnered to vaccinate first responders and front line emergency services staff on January 15.

Rural counties in Western North Carolina are vaccinating first responders.  BPR went to a mass COVID-19 vaccination in Jackson County.

A cold wind blows outside the Jackson County Recreation Center in Cullowhee. But it hasn’t stopped officers, firefighters and first responders from lining up to receive their COVID-19 vaccines.

“There’s actually been a good turn out. It was actually real smooth once we got in line.”  

That’s Kent Davis, a deputy with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office.  He’s worked in law enforcement for more than 35 years.

“I have elderly parents so I was concerned for them. I think if you care about people at all than you wouldn’t want to spread it,” said Davis.

The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office had to close for a week this month because of an increase in COVID-19 cases locally.

Davis felt it was a good idea for him to get the vaccine because he is in contact with so many people as part of his job.

Jennifer Webb agrees. She is a volunteer firefighter.

“Because we come into contact with a lot of people so I felt like it was my responsibility to keep me safe and those that we serve safe,” said Webb.

She has been in emergency services for 16 years. 

“We don’t know what the outcome will be in 10 years, if there will if there will be side effects or not, but I feel like the benefit outweighs that risk right now,” said Webb.

For Jerry Lorenzen that benefit is very personal. Lorenzen is a member of the Savannah Fire Department.

“You know just playing it safe,” said Lorenzen.

Credit Lilly Knoepp
Jennifer Lorenzen came with her husband Jerry Lorenzen for moral support when he received the COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson County Recreation Center. He's a member of the Savannah Fire Department.

At the end of December, Savannah Fire Chief Darrell Woodard passed away because of COVID-19. He had been with the Savannah department for over 35 years.

“I’d never expected it because he was really healthy. He’s just about on every call. I mean, so he’s very much exposed to lots and lots of people,” said Lorenzen.

Woodard was a firefighter for over 40 years.

Like its neighbors, Jackson County has ‘critical’ spread of COVID-19 according to the latest state figures. That's the highest designation for COVID-19 community spread.

Jackson County Public Health says that it administed the vaccine to 200 people at Friday's event. Jackson County Emergency Management, Harris Regional EMS, Glenville Cashiers EMS, Jackson County Public Health Department and Jackson Recreation Center all partnered for the event.  

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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