Coastal Community Health helps vaccinate Golden Ray salvors

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Larry Hobbs, The Brunswick News, Ga.
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Apr. 6—It is a good thing for the crew salvaging the shipwrecked Golden Ray that U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter knows some people who know some people.

Members of the salvage operation's Unified Command dropped a hint with the coastal Georgia Republican March 24 while giving him a tour of what remains of the half-submerged shipwreck in the St. Simons Sound. COVID-19 vaccinations for the salvage crew would greatly improve efficiency, they told Carter.

After the boat tour, Carter made some calls.

And just like that, salvage team members were lining up the next week for COVID-19 vaccinations, delivered by health care folks with Coastal Community Health Services.

Coastal Community's mobile medical unit delivered vaccines to 44 of the salvage operation's most indispensable members March 30 and March 31. Additionally, the unit vaccinated 17 members of the staff at Epworth By The Sea, the spiritual retreat and conference center that is serving as a sequestration zone for the core of key salvors.

Coastal Community's mobile unit will return to deliver vaccinations on Tuesday and again April 13. The crew members are being given the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine that requires only one shot, noted Barbara Meyers, CEO of Coastal Community Health Services, a federally funded nonprofit organization based in Brunswick.

"We were approached through Buddy Carter when he was there touring the Golden Ray last week," Meyers said. "He said the T&T Salvage team requested assistance getting workers vaccinated, so we responded. We're pleased to be able to get some shots in some arms."

Congress recently granted Coastal Community Health some $2.1 million for area vaccination programs, part of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid bill passed by Congress in March. Since January, the organization has provided vaccinations for nearly 2,000 people in Glynn and McIntosh counties, Meyers said.

COVID-19 outbreaks among the salvage team have hampered the operation going back to July. Since September, about 100 of the most vital players in the effort have been sequestered at the 77-acre Epworth complex, taxiing back and forth via boat to the shipwreck and having no contact otherwise with the outside world.

During his recent tour, Carter heard Unified Command officials express a desire to reduce the salvage crew's exposure to COVID-19.

"They are determined to finish without disruption, and one of the big concerns was being vaccinated," said Carter, who last summer publicly criticized a lack of progress in the salvage operation. "They also requested the J&J one-time vaccine. So after that we got in touch with Coastal Community. They had the (mobile medical) van, they had the J&J vaccine and they took it from there."

Vaccinations for salvage workers are voluntary, said U.S. Coast Guardsman Michael Himes, spokesman for Unified Command. And even with the vaccinations, those at Epworth will remain in sequestration there until the job's done.

Most of the workers feel the vaccinations are worthwhile.

"It's a tremendous help to get us to a higher level of COVID-19 mitigation," Himes said. "We want to knock the potential for exposure and transmission down to zero. This is another measure to ensure our workers are safe."

The crew members work 12-hour shifts, which is why Coastal Community Health workers have scheduled additional vaccination dates.

"They work crazy, crazy hours," Meyers said. "It's been a logistical challenge, but we hope to get even more workers vaccinated in the dates ahead."