SALT steps up to help with vaccination calls


By Patsy Nicosia

Once again, SALT has come through for Schoharie County.
Formed 10 years ago in the aftermath of 2011’s Hurricane Irene, SALT—Schoharie Area Longterm—has rounded up volunteers to help the Health Department with COVID vaccines.
Specifically, they’ll be answering a hotline—(518) 295-8390—that will let people signup to be notified when the vaccine is available.
The hotline isn’t a way to register for the vaccine itself, rather it’s a way to sign up for a reverse 911 call or robocall when they become available.
Then, those on the list will need to go online to sign up for the vaccine itself.
“It’s frustrating, but that’s what we have to work with and it takes the burden off the Health Department,” said SALT’s Sarah Goodrich, who’s been coordinating the effort.
“The Health Department is just being bombarded. It’s a step in the right direction.”
Last March, when COVID was new, SALT rallied volunteers to sew, collect, and distribute cloth masks.
SALT reached out again to sewers and others on their volunteer list in January; February 1, they began answering the phones on a dedicated line at the County Office Building.
Volunteers work four-hour shifts, using a drop-down computer menu to gather information on the caller’s name, age, contact information, and reason for wanting the vaccine—the last an answer that will help determine their place “in line.”
Those who don’t have internet access can have their registration flagged to be put in a random drawing for the vaccine as it becomes more available.
These lucky callers will be be notified if they’re a “winner,” Ms. Goodrich said; they will have to sign up for the vaccine on their own once they’re notified that it’s their time.
Though the federal government has promised to step up vaccine distribution and Walgreen’s in Cobleskill has begun taking appointments for those 65 and older, there’s been no predictability in the local supply and no nearby mass vaccination sites. (See related story.)
The Health Department began administering the vaccines to those eligible—including health care workers, EMS volunteers, and teachers—in January.
Typically, the Health Department’s been receiving no more than 200 doses each week--a number far outstripped by demand.
Already, Ms. Goodrich said, there are thousands on the local notification list, many from outside the county—a fair exchange since many from here are traveling to Albany or Utica for their vaccinations.
Still, it makes the process difficult for everyone—including the SALT volunteers manning the phones who sometimes take the brunt of callers’ frustration.
“But most of the time, people are just glad to talk to someone and they appreciate what we’re trying to do,” Ms. Goodrich said.
“There’s a lot of loneliness out there and they’re just glad to talk to a person.”
SALT currently has enough volunteers to cover all of the phone slots, but expects to need others as the effort continues.
For more information, email Ms. Goodrich at