Home>Articles>The O’Toole Chronicles: Vaccinations, Essex County Style

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, center, and East orange Mayor Ted Green watch as centenarians Sallie Kindred, age 104, her COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo: Essex County.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Vaccinations, Essex County Style

By Kevin O'Toole, February 25 2021 4:26 pm

We are in the beginning of the vaccination period and we have seen and heard stories of long lines, lack of availability, website crashes, confusion with the ranking lists, and on and on.

I recently had an opportunity to finally get a vaccine in Essex County and I marveled at how professional and well run the operation was. I registered on the state site and the Essex County one (www.EssexCOVID.org) and “patiently” I waited and waited (like so many others) until I finally received the email with the appointment time and date. I was instructed to go the former Kmart store in West Orange. When I arrived, I didn’t know what to expect but I can tell you this — it was far less harrowing an experience than I had expected. I walked up (mask on) and presented my invite and my driver’s license and I was sent on to two other check in lines. Twenty minutes later I was heading out the door with a pain free vaccination. This couldn’t be, I thought.

Here are a few comments and observations:

The people working at every corner of the vaccine site were exceedingly polite.  I almost felt like an extra in the Chevy Chase movie, Funny Farm, where the town’s folks acted so unbelievably nice. Each employee and volunteer had shockingly good grace, upbeat spirits, and an aura of sheer professionalism not normally seen at huge government run events. The doctors, nurses and staffers made everyone feel at ease. Put it this way — it wasn’t a trip to the DMV. A huge thank you to all who work or volunteer at the vaccination sites!! You are saving lives each and every day.

At the Kmart, every single resident that I interacted with (with social distancing observed) admired the high quality operation and efficient process. The soft classic rock that played in the background lent itself to further creating a chaos free zone. I know it sounds goofy, and without over stating it, but it was akin to going to Disney with the level of orderliness and cleanliness I experienced. I spoke with people who went to the other sites in Essex County and all had similar experiences. You can’t say that every day about government.

Let me give a huge shout out to the Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., who has always made the trains run on time. I have watched Joe D serve as County Executive since 2003 and he is manic about details, deadlines, and budgets. Joe D is a hard charging, take no nonsense CEO who has always gotten Essex County their fair share of State and Federal aid, perhaps by sheer persistence and force of personality.

With regard to this pandemic, Joe D used his talents to plan big and execute. Think large scale planning and coordination with military precision. Well before the vaccines arrived, Joe D and his team planned and planned. They identified 5 strategic locations in Essex, all near major highways and easily accessible, outfitted them with all the necessary tables, chairs, privacy rooms, nurse stations etc. Joe D didn’t wait for the vaccines to arrive before putting a plan in place.

If you know Joe D, you know he is very hands on. He drives out daily to each location and does his own quality control. You rarely come across a more focused elected official (Senator Brian Stack is right up there) who oversees each detail of every project.

I also want to shout out to his chief of staff Phil Alagia – the second greatest chief of staff in Essex County’s history. Phil actually was charged with the planning and coordination on many fronts. He also was charged with the juggling of appointments. As he told me, it is like playing a game of TETRIS to align all the requests with slots and availability of vaccines and locations.

While we are talking Essex County – a few facts :

Since March 26th, Essex County has taken over 100,000 Covid tests of residents.

Since April, Essex County took the lead with food banks and food security. With their partners, Essex County has delivered 2.2 million meals.

Essex County has led the way with rental assistance programs and help for those who need mortgage assistance.

By February 28, Essex County will have administered 72,000 first doses and 32,000 second doses.

Essex County has partnered with the municipalities to transport seniors to the vaccination sites. Plans are underway to put pop-up operations near senior citizen buildings.

The sad reality is that as of this day, a little over 2,400 Essex County residents died due to Covid. Essex has had 67,000 Covid cases. In the face of those numbers strong leadership was needed and that is exactly what Essex County got.

Thank you, Joe D and your entire team!

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