A vaccine site in Delaware County shows how you keep promises in a pandemic. | Maria Panaritis
Republicans left Democrats no health department but Delco Dems are showing how you fix what bad government broke.
They did it in three months — a government that rose to the pandemic challenge.
It can be done. It got done in Delaware County.
Politicos new to the system there showed us Wednesday what resourcefulness and resolve look like. They unveiled an extraordinary pandemic achievement during a ceremony in the frigid parking lot of a sagging shopping center.
Democratic elected officials who recently won control of Delco from the Republican machine that controlled it for decades revealed a major milestone in their cleanup job after inheriting the largest county in the United States without a health department.
They cut the ribbon on 11,235 square feet of a former supermarket in Yeadon they had secured, gutted, and repurposed as a desperately needed public health site.
Officials gave birth to the Delaware County Wellness Center. It opened by immediately doling out a smattering of COVID-19 vaccine shots. How much more they give out in the days ahead will rest upon how much the government sends their way.
Their show of competence comes one week after the inauguration of President Joe Biden put to bed the under-performance of another Republican administration: that of pandemic-denier-in-chief Donald Trump.
Perhaps Biden and his crew can take a page from the Delco Democrats’ get-it-done playbook. The national vaccine shortage against overwhelming demand requires nothing less than that level of performance.
“This is a really exciting time,” Councilwoman Elaine Schaefer said from a podium, flanked by scores of officials who’d worked to help make this happen. “This is a historic moment.”
The wellness center opens as a mass vaccination site but will remain as a major clinical outpost once the county’s ongoing plans to launch its own health department are completed in early 2022.
She and others I spoke with this week said the county, as far behind as it entered the pandemic without a public health agency of its own, is ready with staff and facilities to ramp up vaccine administration as the fledgling Biden administration pledges to boost supplies soon.
“Currently, this wellness center will be serving as vaccine storage, as a vaccination center, and as a COVID-19 testing center for all residents in Delaware County,” Schaefer said, and indeed inside there were vaccine-ready refrigeration systems plugged into electrical wiring that once kept supermarket freezers humming. “We know that the need to offer adequate testing, timely test results, and vaccination is the most public health need right now in the county and right now in the nation. There is no greater public health need.”
The opening of a piece of commercial real estate is seldom a captivating storytelling moment. But as I stood among dozens of officials in that lot, I couldn’t help but notice something symbolically powerful among the many masked faces.
Standing off to the side of the speaker’s podium were a cluster of now-powerful officials who, as I thought about it, had not been in public office before the 2016 election of Trump.
In just one spot alone I saw Councilwoman Christine Reuther, Council Chairman Brian Zidek, Council Vice Chairwoman Dr. Monica Taylor, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, State Sen. Tim Kearney, and State Sen. John Kane.
All Democrats elected either in 2017, 2018, 2019, or 2020.
They ran for office in reaction to Trump’s shellacking of Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania. And they found themselves as neophytes running things during a pandemic, of all things. A global emergency that has required the might of government in ways we have not seen in generations.
For months, their densely populated county of some 560,000 on Philadelphia’s western border has relied on the help of the Chester County Health Department against a contagion that has shut most public schools totally or partially for 10 months and counting.
The new center, however, is the county showing that it is run by people who deliver on fixing things — and running their own show. It opened Wednesday as the second mass vaccination site by the county in just the last few days. Two more are ready to roll once more vaccine becomes available.
“While we’re experiencing a shortage of vaccines right now,” Schaefer said, “we as a county are at the ready with adequate storage, with the locations we need and with the staffing we need to administer the COVID-19 vaccine. When we begin to get more doses, which we all hope will be very soon ... we are prepared and we are ready.”
At the risk of overhyping politicians of any stripe — this is risky business — we still must give this group even a little more credit. They are doing this repair job while also delivering on promises they made to pay close to attention to all constituents.
Yeadon Mayor Rohan Hepkins took pains to note that county officials had given more than lip service after winning their posts. Of all the zip codes in multiracial and economically diverse Delaware County, he said, they had chosen his normally overlooked borough as the site of their first major capital investment in public health. Yeadon is predominantly African American and often overlooked at times like these.
“They made good on their promise,” Hepkins said from the same podium. “For the first time in over 20 years, we’ve got investment in Yeadon!”
There is a long road ahead of us still. May it include many more bright moments as this.