Guest Columns

Westchester Takes the Offensive Against COVID-19

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By Michael Gold

Westchester’s battle against COVID-19 has finally been joined.

A line about 600 feet long, socially distanced, in the Westchester Medical Center’s Taylor Pavilion in Valhalla, tells a tale of progress against this microscopic apocalypse.

It took about a dozen attempts looking online to get this appointment for my first shot. A two-year-old diagnosis of coronary artery disease allowed me to sign up. 

Various pharmacies and the Westchester County Center repeatedly pounded out the same message on their websites: no appointment available. Some of the websites were confusing to navigate, too. I did manage to get on a waiting list for a pharmacy in Croton-on-Hudson. Syracuse and other upstate towns have appointments available, but that’s a long haul. 

Then I hit the vaccine lottery, by scoring an appointment with the Westchester Medical Center (WMC) in Valhalla. The big day for me was Mar. 5.

I expected to sit in a nice chair arranged on calm, blue carpeting and wait to be called into an office for the shot.

Boy, was I wrong.

When I arrived at the site, the line trailed down the long corridor, then made a right angle into another hallway. People stood patiently, communing with their cell phones, talking about real estate and staring into space. A few sat on the floor, tiled in 50 shades of beige. I read a book.

The assembled men and women were dressed in sweatshirts, winter coats, sneakers, industrial work boots and a few sport jackets and ties. The guy in front of me wore a purple fleece cap, which gave me something interesting to look at when I got tired of reading.

A number of people pumped their legs to work the stiffness out of their joints. 

A woman on crutches walked by, and said, “Oh, come on,” when she tried to find the end of the line. The WMC staff were on the case quickly. They found a special chair on wheels for her to sit in.

A security guard re-formed the line on occasion, to get everyone standing up on both sides of the corridors of the building, to make sure no one had to stand in the subfreezing, winter wind, which pushes you around, seemingly just for fun. 

WMC staff walked by and handed out clip boards. The New York State Department of Health required us to answer questions about our health and insurance.

I read that the vaccine was being given under an Emergency Use Authorization, which states, “known and potential benefits (of the vaccine) outweigh the known and potential risks.”

After about two hours, I was able to walk into a carpeted room with several booths, curtained on three sides – the promised land.

Gentle music was playing on the public address system and video screens displayed mountains, forests, vast fields of green meadows and purple and orange flowers, waterfalls and flowing streams filled with sunlight.

I was called first to a registration table. Two women asked questions about my medical history and typed my information into a computer.

I was called to a booth, where a nurse talked with me briefly about my medical history questionnaire, then pushed the needle into my arm. After all that build-up, it was very quick.

I was then directed to a waiting room. The WMC staff wants you to wait 15 minutes before leaving to make sure you don’t experience any immediate side effects from the shot, so you can drive home safely. 

The waiting room had a video screen of the Eiffel Tower, lit up and glittering in the Parisian night. Soft jazz – a saxophone and piano – played on the speakers in the room.

It all added up to a quiet celebration in my mind, of us getting the vaccine. 

Better yet was a woman dancing in her winter coat in the corridor as I walked into the building to get on line. 

It was a perfect moment. We need that dance. It’s a dance of progress, the first steps in taking the initiative in fighting a virus that has taken far too many of us and bedeviled the world for more than a year. 

Somebody, call Snoopy and the Peanuts gang to do a victory dance and put it on YouTube. That’s a show I’d be happy to watch over and over.

Pleasantville resident Michael Gold has published op-ed articles in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times-Union and other newspapers.

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