By Juliet Altenburg, DGN, District 7390 (Pennsylvania, USA)
Last June as I ended my term as president of the Rotary Club of Mechanicsburg-North and started my role as a district governor-nominee, I was feeling the enormity of COVID-19 in my paid job, personal life, and Rotary club.
In my professional job as a nurse, I am the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation (PTSF). PTSF oversees hospitals that are trauma centers in Pennsylvania. Hospital staff shared with me the stress of caring for patients while trying to protect themselves and their families. They were often the “family” of patients that died alone and were physically and emotionally exhausted.
Meanwhile in my mother’s nursing home, the virus swept through the facility at an alarming rate. Among 86 residents, over 70 tested positive and 11 died. I received daily messages of more and more staff being impacted which contributed to staffing shortages. Meanwhile in my club, we pivoted to online Zoom meetings but were still unsure of when and how we should reconnect in person. Furthermore, how should we keep risk at a minimum while doing service activities in the community?
With this in mind, I asked District Governor John Anthony if we could form a committee focused on supporting the district’s clubs on how to serve safely. We would educate Rotarians on how to be safe with any in-person events including fundraisers, service activities, and club meetings.
With DG John’s enthusiastic support, the District 7390 Safety Committee was launched. Within two weeks of asking for volunteers, 12 Rotarians with expertise in education, food handling, childcare, public health, nursing, contact tracing, and public relations came together to form a plan. The result of that plan was the formation of a COVID-19 Safety Guidance document for all clubs that would teach them principles of meeting and serving safely. That document was part of an overall communications plan that included enhancing the district website by forming a COVID-19 page.
That page not only contains a guidance document, but signage, guest information, and the most current CDC, Pennsylvania Department of Health, and Rotary International announcements related to COVID-19. As news spread on depth of expertise on the committee, various Rotary committees requested support to provide recommendations for implementing risk mitigation strategies for events including RYLA, Youth Exchange, and the Multi-District Conference. As committee work continues plans include:
- Conducting webinars for Rotarians and the public related to COVID-19 safe practices and scientifically based information regarding COVID-19 vaccinations.
- Collaborating with local public health organizations in providing vaccination support
- Increasing public media presence including messaging on digital billboards
- Forming a subcommittee to develop District Crisis Management Guidelines
Our goal is to one day focus on other aspects of safety as we serve the public, but for now, we are proud to be supporting our clubs and the world at large in advocating for safe practices and vaccine distribution as COVID-19 ravages the planet. One day we will be together without masks, but for now we will serve the public and each other proudly as we support one another during this challenging time.