After 12-year IBEW 1245 member Glen Bernard lost his cousin to COVID-19, he struggled – and continues to struggle—to find closure.
“There was no real funeral … and we’ve never really emotionally closed the book, because we couldn’t say goodbye to him,” he said, recounting the painful, difficult experience that far too many families have faced during the pandemic.
So when the COVID-19 vaccine became available in his area, he thought of his late cousin, as well as his wife, who has Lupus – a condition that could make her susceptible to severe and life-threatening illness.
“I’m very sympathetic to people that have health issues, underlying health conditions. I’m a hardcore mask-wearer, because I really am concerned about the people around me,” he said. “I want to be proactive.”
Bernard, who works as a First Responder Gas Crew Lead for PG&E in San Rafael, decided to walk up to a vaccination clinic in his area in late February and see if there were any missed appointments that resulted in leftover vaccination doses. He knew that any shots remaining at the end of the day would have to be thrown away, and he’d heard that several clinics are giving those extra shots to some individuals without an appointment instead of tossing them out, so he decided to give it a try. As luck would have it, there were extra doses available when he went, and he succeeded in getting one.
“They had a lot of no-shows that day, and I didn’t have to wait too long,” he recalled. “Everybody was incredibly nice, and it was a very simple process. I was led to the front door, I showed my ID, then they led me inside, where I sat down, and I showed my ID and then they rubbed alcohol on my arm, they squeezed my arm a little and then they gave me a shot. And then after that, I just walked to an area where they monitor you, and I showed my ID again, and they gave me a sticker to put on my chest that had the time I received the vaccine on it, and I sat down. After 15 minutes they asked me, ‘How are you feeling?’ And I said, ‘I’m feeling good.’ And they said, ‘Well, thank you very much. Have a nice day.’”
Bernard found the entire experience to be easy and fairly painless – save a for a bit of soreness in the arm following the injection. But the feeling of elation he experienced after getting the shot quickly eclipsed any temporary discomfort.
“Mentally, it feels like a huge weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. A huge sense of relief,” he said. “It was almost like a victory. Like, hell yeah, touchdown! It feels like I won!”
In December of 2020, IBEW 1245 member Todd Carscadden nearly lost his life to COVID-19. The PG&E troubleman’s girlfriend had to call an ambulance for him when he was so sick that he could barely move. He was hospitalized for nearly a week, lost 27 pounds, and is still feeling the long-lasting effects of the virus, months later.
“I don’t believe I took COVID as seriously as it is [before getting sick]… I was not prepared for what I went through. I didn’t believe that it could happen to me, and even as it was happening to me, I denied it,” he said. “My girlfriend Laurie wanted me to go to the hospital two days prior to when I finally went. I told her I didn’t need to go… Well, thank God she forced me, because to be honest with you, I don’t think I’d be alive right now if I hadn’t gone. There were two nights in a row that I was wondering if I was going to make it to the morning.”
Fortunately, Carscadden beat the virus, but his recovery from COVID-19 has been long and difficult. He still gets winded very easily and is concerned about possible permanent scarring in his lungs. He’s returned to work, but remains on light duty as he is not yet well enough to resume his full job.
As the safety lead for his department, Carscadden is passionate about keeping his co-workers safe and healthy, and his ordeal with COVID has prompted him to become even more proactive about COVID protection and prevention at work. So when his Fremont yard was given the opportunity to get the COVID vaccine, he took it upon himself to text his co-workers personally and urge them to get the shot – and he signed up to get it himself as well (after consulting and getting approval from his doctor).
Most experts believe that people like Carscadden who have had COVID already could theoretically retain immunity for several months – but even though he may already have some immunity, Carscadden decided to take the vaccine anyway, both for himself as well as for the people around him. He is looking forward to the day when his girlfriend and the rest of his family are fully vaccinated.
“I haven’t seen my grandson but maybe twice in a year, because of all this,” he said. “That hurts. I want to spend time with my grandson.”
When 14-year IBEW 1245 member Brian Bluford got a chance to take the COVID-19 vaccine, he immediately thought of his wife, who works at Kaiser, where she runs the cafeteria.
“She got her vaccine about a month-and-a-half ago, and after having some discussions with her about it, seeing her go through it, and understanding that it’s for a good cause, I decided to do it,” said Bluford, who works as a PG&E gas service mechanic in Livermore. “I just want to try my best to help out with the [pandemic] solution.”
Bluford’s yard was presented with the opportunity to take part in a vaccination event for first responders and frontline personnel in Alameda county, and he quickly put his name on the list, along with several other co-workers. He got a follow-up registration email and reserved his vaccination time. When he and a colleague arrived at the vaccination site in Dublin on Tuesday, March 2, they weren’t sure what to expect, but Bluford was highly impressed at the level of coordination and professionalism he witnessed.
“They did an amazing job, whoever was orchestrating the event over there. Very smooth sailing,” he recalled. “They said to have your OQ scan card available on your phone ready to go, and to bring a valid driver’s license. We were asked to sit down at a table. They verified our name, gave us our shot, and mine was in my left arm, not painful at all. And then we were sent into a staging area to wait a duration of 15 minutes. They had snacks there, they put on a movie, chairs were socially distanced, and it was a very pleasing experience.”
Bluford also appreciated the quality of communication he received both before and after his vaccination, including the reminder messages, as well as follow-ups asking about any side effects. Bluford didn’t experience any physical side effects after his first shot, but he did feel something else: optimism for the future.
“My motivation in taking part in the vaccination is to be helpful … it seems like the vaccine is something that’s working for us to get somewhere close to normal,” Bluford said, noting that his kids would returning to the classroom the day before he’s scheduled to get his second dose of the vaccine. “To me, it’s a good feeling.”
PG&E Lead Gas Service Rep Ernie Pena also participated in the same Alameda vaccination event that Bluford and Carscadden attended. COVID-19 had already claimed the life of his elderly uncle, who was in his 80s. Like Bernard, he never got a chance to say goodbye to the family member that he lost to the virus.
At 60 years old himself, Pena understands that statistically, his age could put him at a higher risk of severe illness. He has taken every precaution to protect himself, his co-workers and the customers he interacts with, but he decided to get the vaccine as an extra level of protection for himself and his wife.
“I’ve worked at PG&E for 40 years, and I don’t want to get COVID and suffer for the end of my career,” he said. “And my wife is not vaccinated yet. She’s the same age as me. We’re empty nesters, it’s just the two of us at home. So I can’t let my guard down yet. After the second dose, I should be good to not at least go to the hospital with COVID if I do get it, but I still want to make sure that my wife doesn’t get it.”
Within days of getting his first dose of the vaccine, Pena learned that his daughter had contracted COVID-19.
“She was in New York, helping a friend of hers, when that friend got it – and then my daughter got it, and the friend’s two kids got it too,” he said. “She’s okay. She sounded a little hoarse over the weekend, but then yesterday she called and sounded better. So hopefully she’s over it.”
Pena is also thinking of his two sons in San Ramon, one of whom has battled cancer and been on chemotherapy treatment, which compromises the immune system.
“We haven’t been able to see them in a long time, not even in their backyard,” he said, noting that they’ve had to be exceptionally careful to avoid any potential virus exposure. “My wife said, ‘I haven’t hugged them in so long.’ We can’t wait [to all be fully vaccinated] so we can meet up with family again.”
As a PG&E Gas Service Rep in Fremont, eight-year IBEW 1245 member Phong Ho is often required to enter customers’ homes as part of his job, and has been highly cognizant of the potential for COVID exposure.
“It does worry me every single time I have to go into houses … I mainly just wanted to protect myself, and also my wife too, because she has pretty severe case of asthma,” said Ho.
Ho ended up getting the vaccine at a small neighborhood clinic he’d heard about from a friend. He signed up online identified himself as an energy worker, and a few nights later, he got a notification around 9pm, letting him know he could go ahead and book his appointment. 72 hours later, he got his first dose, with no side effects aside from a bit of soreness at the injection site.
“Getting the vaccine, it’s a feeling of relief. I mean, I’ll feel better in a few weeks [after the second dose], but I’m relieved that I’m finally at least got [the first dose],” he said.
My long-time friend called just after the election was over. She works for Washoe County Health District Communicable Disease Division, and she asked if I could help out for a while because they were being inundated with COVID-19 test lab results that needed to be entered. So I began helping out in their office the first week of December.
Because of this, I was given the opportunity to get the vaccine. I got my first injection of the Moderna vaccine on Dec 29.
Here in Washoe County, Nevada we have a vaccination program that has been working extremely well. It is a “by appointment” drive-through site at the rodeo grounds. Everyone stays in their vehicle. No standing in long lines. You verify your information through the car window and you only have to roll down your window to get the vaccine. They have been vaccinating up to 1,200 people in a single five-hour session.
Getting the injection was quick, easy, and practically painless. Everyone was then asked to wait in a designated parking lot for 15 minutes to check for any reactions to the vaccine. The only side effect I had was a sore arm for a couple of days. I got my second vaccine injection on January 26.
When I was in elementary school, polio had been infecting children and adults all over the nation for years. It was every parent’s nightmare to find out your child had polio. When the long-awaited vaccine came out, it was given to children in schools, first by injection and later orally on a sugar cube. I remember lining up in the school lunchroom and nervously waiting for my turn. I was really afraid of “shots” and none of us wanted to get one — but none of us wanted to get polio either.
History has shown us that by utilizing vaccines, we have been able to nearly eradicate the most devastating diseases. We hardly ever hear about smallpox, polio or even measles and mumps outbreaks now, and that is due to people getting vaccinated. I’m hopeful that, with this vaccine, maybe in the future we won’t hear about COVID-19 outbreaks again.
–IBEW 1245 retiree Rita Weisshaar
The union understands that our membership may have mixed feelings about the vaccine. Local 1245 respects each and every union member’s right to make their own decisions about whether to take the vaccine. All currently available data indicates that widespread vaccination is in the best interest of our membership, our customers, and our communities. Numerous studies have shown that the vaccines that are currently available are both effective and safe.
Utility workers that provide emergency support (including electricity, gas, water, waste, and roads/highways) are now classified as 1B under the Emergency Services Worker designation. Local 1245 members that fall into this category are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine. You can read more about the designation changes in the official bulletin here.