Reps from Toms River Regional Schools stand with reps from Ocean County Health Department in RWJBarnabas Health Arena, which is currently a Covid-19 vaccination site. From left to right: Board President Joseph Nardini; Assistant Superintendent James Ricotta; Assistant Superintendent Cara DiMeo; OCHD Public Health Coordinator Dan Regenye; OCHD Public Health Planner Mukesh Roy; OCHD Director of Administration and Program Development and 9th District Assemblyman Brian Rumpf; Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella; and Business Administrator William Doering

Partnership Maximizes Impact of Arena as Vaccination Site

Jan. 8, 2021-- Since the outset of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. in early March 2020, Toms River Regional Schools has worked alongside Ocean County Health Department to analyze and share important and ever-evolving information about the virus, with OCHD’s guidance providing a crucial role in the district’s decision-making process.

As an expected resurgence of Covid-19 has emerged, but within the encouraging context of vaccines currently being distributed, the relationship between the two organizations has advanced from the abstract to something more tangible.

RWJBarnabas Health Arena has been the setting for a collaboration in healthcare since it was designated a vaccination site by the county.

“We’ve provided the space, and OCHD is leading the effort with their knowledge, resources, and medical capacity,” said Assistant Superintendent James Ricotta. “Our nurses have been in constant communication with OCHD-- after hours, on weekends, and even over the holidays-- to ensure this operation is as seamless and safe as possible.”

Workers at the arena are currently vaccinating the 1a group, which primarily includes medical personnel but which recently expanded.

“We have currently vaccinated over 2,000 healthcare workers,” said OCHD Public Health Coordinator Dan Regenye. “The governor recently expanded the criteria for Phase 1A to include police and fire. The OCHD will be able to accommodate these additional people at RWJBarnabas Health Arena."

It’s expected that the state will soon advance to approve vaccinations for group 1b-- which includes other first responders, teachers, older adults, and essential workers-- and when that happens the district and OCHD will be ready, as results of the early stages of the process have been encouraging and efficient.

“Dan and Mukesh are here every day,” said arena representative Tammi Millar referring to Regenye and OCHD Public Health Planner Mukesh Roy. “We've heard nothing but good things from healthcare workers, who are usually in and out of the arena in 25 minutes. The Health Department is using its own appointment software which they use for their flu shot clinics, and it is working well.”

This is not the first time the arena has been a refuge during a crisis. In 2012, it housed displaced residents after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the Jersey Shore.

“We have this tremendous asset at our disposal with RWJBarnabas Health Arena, and it’s our responsibility to use it for the public good when needed,” said Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialenella. “With the help of Ocean County Health Department and our own dedicated personnel, we’re proud and honored to be doing that right now.”

The arena will be a busy place for the foreseeable future.

“Any residents who have received their first dose of Moderna will have to return after 28 days to receive their second dose of the vaccine,” said Regenye. “The OC Health Department is working to expand their appointments to accommodate the second vaccine soon after the 28 days.

Earlier this week, the NJ Department of Health launched a website through which users can register to receive the vaccine. Registrants are still bound by the state’s tiered approach, and registration does not generate an appointment. Nevertheless, the state continues to encourage all residents to register. If and when they do, many greater Toms River residents might find themselves receiving a vaccine at RWJBarnabas Health Arena, being cared for by dedicated employees of both TRRS and OCHD.