Since January, the Socorro Fire Department, the Socorro Emergency Managers office, the Department of Health and many volunteers have helped vaccinate Socorro County.
Caitie Ihrig | El Defensor Chieftain

Two weeks after being named Emergency Manager for Socorro County in 2020, Gail Tripp had to call the Department of Health to let them know of the first positive COVID-19 case in the county.

“It was very scary,” she said. “I was sitting there in my office, I got the call from the hospital, ‘this is real world. This is real world. We have a positive.’ I remember hanging up going, ‘hmm, somebody should probably call the state and let them know. Oh wait, that’s me. Ok, who do I call at the state to let them know.’”

When Tripp called the DOH to inform them, they were in the middle of their Planning and Preparedness Conference. She then talked to all of the appropriate people and said it has been a rollercoaster of emotions ever since.

“The anxiety,” she said. “The stress of trying to make sure I’m doing what I need to be doing at all times because this is a 24-hour pandemic.”

Over the past year, Tripp said she has gotten calls in the middle of the night for transports. She has also received donations from New Mexico Tech, secured PPE and set up non congregate housing. She was able to secure beds from Tech when they went down to single dorm occupancy. Tripp also had to worry about her coworkers in the county.

“I had my county coworkers getting COVID19 so we had the sheriff’s office getting exposures and we had detention — trying to make sure they are safeguarded in every possible way because if they have an exposure in a closed system like that, it could be catastrophic,” she said. “It’s just constantly thinking about every single thing that I needed to do.”

Then, around Thanksgiving, Tripp and others around the state of New Mexico started planning vaccine clinics. She said they had many trainings and Zoom calls as some of the calls had over 500 people.

The first clinic was supposed to be the Tuesday after Christmas, but it had to be pushed to the first week of January.

Tripp said that she and Adrian Morris, Socorro General Hospital Emergency Manager, were told that the Pfizer vaccine would be shipped to a subzero freezer at SGH.

During a Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting the week before Christmas, Tripp and Morris were told that the vaccine had to be shipped to the public health office and that the hospital would not be allowed to pick it up.

“I was livid,” Tripp said. “I was like everything we had in place — all the plans, everything we had discussed was gone.”

Since the first week of January, the Department of Health, Socorro Fire Department and the Emergency Manager’s office have administered over 4,600 COVID-19 vaccines.

“We just got together, came up with a plan and it’s been good,” Socorro Fire Department Captain Lawrence Baca said. “It’s worked out really well. We’ve got nothing but positive feedback from everybody about how well organized we have been and how well set up it is. It’s been a good all-around team effort.”

Socorro firefighter Dustin Aldrich administers a COVID-19 vaccine to an excited community member during the final vaccine clinic on May 6 at the Socorro Sport and Rodeo Complex

Retired nurses and doctors from Socorro also came out every Thursday to lend a helping hand.

“Throughout my career here at the fire department, early on I got to work hand-in-hand with a lot of these people that have gone on and retired and it’s nice to have them back out-and-about again and to be able to work with them,” Socorro Fire Department Captain Matt Brannan said.

Volunteers who helped on Thursdays include Vicky Gonzales, Adrian Camille, Norm Reid, Carol Reid, Allen Bassler, Margeet Jenness, Mac Kenzie Best, Bev Junger, Dakota Kellis, Tyler Mobraten, Linda Mobraten, Bob Markwell, Kathy Markwell, Don Rudolf, Cathy Rudolf, Cory Dinter, Noah Hobbs, Mary Norman, Victor Rudermacher, Francie Durand, Corbly Shaffer, Gbenga Oshokoya, Enrique Najera, Leslie Johnson, Greg Coyle, Jen Phifer, Sandra Noll, Pri Gusnawan, Arezou Rasti and Lynette Napier.

Fire Chief Joe Gonzales, Humberto Lucero, Colton Wheeler, Ignacio Chavez, Mario Amaro, Ricky Silva, Leo Peterson, Gabe Sosa, Daniel Pacheco, Jedi Angel, Mathew Jojola, Michael Padilla, Dustin Aldrich, Chris Rodriguez, Baca, and Brannan helped from the Socorro Fire Department.

Jackie Muncy and Trudy Broome from the Public Health office, Ken Wolf and Jerry Wheeler from the Emergency Manager office, and Carmen Vazquez and Hamid Ranjekesh from the Medical Reserve Corp also helped. Demecio Silva along with the City of Socorro Police Department helped with security and signage.

Tripp said that at times it was very hard to get the vaccines from the DOH and that there were a few instances where the order from Socorro County was shortened from 600 to 200.

“I’m still fighting,” she said. “I will fight for this county for everything. We need this. Our community, every single person, has been hurt by this disease in one way or another.”

While there will be no more mass vaccination clinics on Thursdays, Tripp said there are still many opportunities for people to get vaccinated.

The Department of Health recently announced that primary care physicians can register to administer the vaccine and there are still various clinics happening around the state. Those who are between 12- and 15-years old are now eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

According to Tripp, the vaccination clinic on Thursdays in Socorro has ended because not enough people were signing up.

“It’s not that it should be coming to an end, but it’s frustrating to see the disease still here,” Tripp said. “You want that completion and the finality of it being over. But that’s not happening.”

According to the DOH, 54.1 percent of Socorro County is fully vaccinated.

“We are in the fourth quarter,” Socorro Fire Chief Joe Gonzales said.

“I’ve always referred to this as a football game. It’s been a tough one. We turned the tide and we got the advantage and we are taking the soul of COVID19, but we are still in the fourth quarter.”

For Tripp and everyone from the Socorro Fire Department, helping administer vaccines meant giving back to their community more than they have been able to do in the past.

“Pre-pandemic, I feel like we were doing quite a bit to help out in our community,” Brannan said. “But during the time of the pandemic, I feel it has been very, very helpful to the community and very rewarding as the community needed the help and that is what we are here for. That is what our job is. That is what we chose to do when we signed up to take this job is to help people no matter the time of day or night, the weather conditions, what have you.”

When the firefighters are not at the clinics, they are administering vaccines to the homebound, helping people register for the vaccine and scheduling appointments.

Tripp said that the best part of the clinics was seeing how happy everyone was to receive their vaccine.

“These people, some of them haven’t left their house in a year,” she said. “It seems like the world is going on, but they are not. They aren’t leaving their house because they are scared. Get them out here, get them vaccinated, get them back out in the world. There is too much living to be done.”