Medical Reserve Corps volunteer Rhonda Tumy collects a sample from a registered nurse at a COVID-19 testing site held at McCollum Park on June 30 in Everett. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Medical Reserve Corps volunteer Rhonda Tumy collects a sample from a registered nurse at a COVID-19 testing site held at McCollum Park on June 30 in Everett. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

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Volunteers continue to play critical role in COVID response

Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps members help with testing, screening and, soon, vaccinating.

EVERETT — For Rhonda Tumy, a longtime volunteer with Snohomish County’s Medical Reserve Corps, one event will mark the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

When the reserve corps tells her there’s no more work to be done — the vaccine is distributed, hospitals are rid of any COVID patients and the test sites are closed down — she’ll go to a hair salon.

“I decided not to get a haircut until the end of COVID,” she said. “I’m just on a mission to see this through. I will continue all the way to the end.”

Until then, Tumy will continue to split her time as a para-educator and volunteer, filling the logistical gaps in the county’s response to the pandemic.

Since the spring, she’s worked alongside doctors administering COVID tests, transported samples across the county, distributed personal protective equipment and answered the phones at the health district’s emergency call center, among other tasks.

Currently, she screens patients and visitors for COVID symptoms at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, in addition to working shifts at a cold weather shelter. Soon, she could help deliver a COVID vaccine across the county.

Tumy is one of about 250 regular volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps.

Founded in 2002, the organization springs into action during public crises, including the Oso mudslide.

This time, it’s helping wherever needed in the fight against COVID-19.

“The volunteers are dedicated,” reserve corps Director Therese Quinn said. “I can’t say enough good things about them.”

Like Tumy, a majority of the reserve corps’ volunteers don’t have a background in health care. The doctors and nurses who volunteer are often retired, part time or work in schools.

Due to the nature of COVID-19, some at-risk members of the reserve corps can’t volunteer. Others are doctors, nurses and other hospital staff who are already working overtime.

Whether medical or non-medical, everyone has a skill to bring, Tumy said.

She added her background as an educator helps her deal with upset patients or visitors while screening for COVID symptoms at hospitals.

And the corps could always use more volunteers, Quinn added, whether you’re a nurse or doctor, speak multiple languages, or are willing to work in the cold at a test site or all-night shelter.

“We ask everybody how often you want to work, and then we try to fit those needs with whatever they want,” Quinn said. “There’s no commitment to hours. The only commitment we want is that you’ll get all my emails.”

And COVID safety is a priority, she added.

“We do everything possible to reduce the risk,” she said. “We have (personal protective equipment) for volunteers. We have training’s that we do every Wednesday night, de-escalation training, interventions to reduce stress. We really stress the safety of all our volunteers.”

Some, like Tumy, have been with the corps for years. Others joined in the early days of the pandemic.

One nurse, Quinn said, was hesitant to volunteer.

“Then, she said, ‘Put me in, coach. I want to do this. I’ve got to be part of this response,’” Quinn said.

Tumy, too, was nervous to volunteer during the pandemic.

“Now, part of me feels like it’s just my job,” she said. “As much as I can’t wait for that vaccine, I know it’s been special being a part of this group.”

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; jthompson@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

How to help

To learn more about becoming a volunteer, email TQuinn@snohd.org or visit www.snohd.org/221/Medical-Reserve-Corps.

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