NORRIDGEWOCK — Community members will be able stop by the polls to vote on Election Day and get vaccinated against influenza and COVID-19.
Town officials have teamed up with Skowhegan’s Redington-Fairview General Hospital’s EMS Department to provide a vaccine clinic in conjunction with the Nov. 2. election. The latest community vaccine clinic comes as Somerset County continues to be the least-vaccinated county in Maine, with about 54% of the population fully vaccinated.
Voting will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 2 in the gymnasium at Mill Stream Elementary School. The vaccine clinic will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., also at the school building.
Town Manager Richard LaBelle said that the wheels began turning after hearing conversations among residents about access to health appointments and the wait that some have getting seen.
“You can go to the supermarket and get (vaccinated), but what’s a better way than to offer it to folks while they’re voting?” LaBelle said. “It’s a one-stop shop, if you haven’t had your COVID-19 vaccine and you’d like to get that you can and you can get your flu shot at the same time.”
Barbara Demchak, director of emergency medical services at Redington-Fairview General Hospital, said that though this time of year is busy for hospital staff, she was able to “scramble together a team” to assist with immunizations for Norridgewock’s election.
“This is a really busy time for other people around the hospital because of the ongoing flu clinics being conducted,” Demchak said.
She added that the department hasn’t had any similar requests yet from other municipalities but she anticipates that changing as fall rolls into winter.
Redington-Fairview General Hospital has continued to offer COVID-19 vaccination opportunities, including public clinics at the Skowhegan State Fair, Skowhegan Craft Brew Festival and at Hight Family of Dealerships in Skowhegan.
According to the hospital’s website, a weekly COVID-19 vaccination clinic is offered Thursdays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. at the hospital’s campus at 46 Fairview Ave. in Skowhegan.
At the state level, Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said the Maine Immunization Program has not received any applications for popup clinics at other election polling places.
“However, these kinds of clinics are often collaborations with local hospitals or health systems, so it’s possible that municipalities are working with their local hospitals to arrange them,” Long said. “Kudos to the hospital and municipal leaders for collaborating on this clinic. It’s an excellent example of community service. Vaccinations save lives.”
Town officials in Norridgewock have previously partnered up with MaineGeneral to provide three vaccination clinics at the town’s fire department over the summer.
Public health officials reported 467 new cases of COVID-19 Friday as well as four additional deaths throughout the state, indicating that the latest surge in cases may be subsiding. Officials also report higher spikes of the virus in low-vaccination counties, like Somerset, as counties with higher vaccination rates, like Cumberland, have not seen as dramatic an increase in cases.
Maine CDC data reflects that nearly 66% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, but Somerset County remains the lowest vaccinated county, with about 54% of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
To date, 3,763 cases of COVID-19 have been documented in Somerset County as well as 40 deaths and 111 hospitalizations.
LaBelle said this year’s ballot includes two local questions on decades-old blue laws and state referendum questions, including a question about the New England Clean Energy Connect corridor, which he believes will bring people to the polls.
“It was something that came into my mind selfishly. It’s an opportunity for me to get it, and it’s an opportunity for my employees to get it,” LaBelle said. “Vaccines are controversial enough right now, arguably. (The ballot questions) are going to drive a turnout, so why not make it easier for people?”
Masks will be required at the polling site on Election Day and LaBelle added the rule will be enforced and masks will be offered to those that need one.
“The majority of the folks in that building are unvaccinated because of their age. And that’s the ask from the school department, and that is what we will respect,” LaBelle said.
He encourages those who may be resistant to wearing a mask to consider voting absentee.