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

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

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Volunteers prove vital to county’s fight against COVID-19

Snohomish County’s Medical Reserve Corps provides a chance to help during the pandemic.

EVERETT — Rhonda Tumy spent Tuesday at the county’s COVID-19 testing site at McCollum Park in south Everett.

Initially, she was tasked with working alongside a doctor administering tests to document patient and test sample information.

“But that’s changed, like everything else with the pandemic,” she said.

She was reassigned as a team lead — someone who floats from station to station, taking over when others change shifts or need a snack, break or trip to the bathroom.

Since the pandemic started, Tumy has worked at test sites, transported test samples across Snohomish County, screened patients and visitors at a local hospital, distributed personal protective equipment and answered the phones at the health district’s emergency call center.

But she doesn’t work for the Snohomish Health District. She’s not a doctor or nurse, either. Nor is she getting paid.

Tumy, like nearly 200 others, is a volunteer with the county’s Medical Reserve Corps helping fill the logistical gaps in the fight against the coronavirus.

“When the pandemic hit, our director asked if I was interested in coming on board and I was all in,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I was headed for, but I wanted to help. Was I nervous, initially? Absolutely. Going in, we knew so little about this. I guess my hope was stronger than my fear.”

In total, she and other members have logged nearly 7,000 volunteer hours since January, said Snohomish County Medical Reserve Corps Director Therese Quinn. Additionally, the number of volunteers with the reserve corps has essentially doubled.

“It makes me feel like there’s hope for the world, to see how people step forward and do this work just because they want to do something to help people,” Quinn said. “People get depressed in these times, that’s something to think about, how many wonderful amazing people there are. … That makes it worth going on.”

Tumy, a paraeducator, has been with the reserve corps for about seven years. Most of her previous work centered on cold weather shelters.

Early on in the pandemic, she primarily worked at the emergency call center, taking messages from concerned residents and answering questions about the virus.

Recently, she’s spent most of her time at the county’s testing sites.

“This whole thing has been such a fluid situation,” she said. “It just depends where the need is. Right now, that’s testing and contact tracing.”

Like Tumy, a majority of the reserve corps’ volunteers don’t have a background in health care, Quinn said. The doctors and nurses that volunteer are often retired, part time or work in schools that have long been shuttered by the virus.

“They do it because they care,” Quinn said. “One woman told me, ‘When this is all over, and I tell my kids about what I did in the pandemic, I want to be able to say I helped out.’”

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, she said.

The goal of the reserve corps and its nearly 500 members is to spring into action during public health crises.

When county leaders were setting up the emergency call center in January, they asked Quinn how quickly she could have volunteers answering calls from residents.

“We had people there as soon as they had the phones set up,” she said.

The case was the same during the Oso mudslide in 2014, Quinn added.

The reserve corps is still looking for volunteers, Quinn said. Those who speak multiple languages are especially needed.

To find the application, visit www.snohd.org/221/Medical-Reserve-Corps.

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

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