Harrisonburg, Rockingham County COVID-19 response leaders recognized by CSHD

Published: Nov. 1, 2021 at 9:41 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - It has taken a village to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many hands have helped out over the past 18+ months.

There are a few who have led the City of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County through it all and have been recognized for their efforts.

For Paul Helmuth, Deputy Emergency Coordinator for the City of Harrisonburg, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic began well before the first positive case was identified in the city.

“I got my first media notification in my email, and I still have that email from January 4th that talked about the pneumonia that was an outbreak in Wuhan, China,” Helmuth said.

Later that spring, Helmuth took the reigns on the COVID-19 efforts in the Friendly City.

Harrisonburg Fire Chief Matthew Tobia said one of the things about Helmuth’s leadership style that has resonated the most is his calm demeanor.

“When chaos is surrounding us, when there is so much emotion, when there is so much fear in the community, Paul just remains calm,” Tobia said. “Paul is probably the individual who is most singularly responsible for saving literally thousands of lives here in the City of Harrisonburg.”

In Rockingham County, Chief Jeremy Holloway of Rockingham County Fire and Rescue and Division Chief of Emergency Medical Services Steve Powell have also spent countless hours leading the COVID-19 response efforts.

For Holloway, that meant stepping away from his role as fire chief.

“That was a challenge for me, being a day to day fire person that can go and when you see a problem you can fix, until the end of it to ‘when is this thing going to end?’” Holloway said.

There were ups and downs over the last year and a half and times when things were changing rapidly.

“It’s kind of been a whirlwind in some aspects that information was coming in and as quick as we would try to get information processed, we would basically have to redo it again,” Powell said.

County administrator Stephen King said the resiliency and leadership from Holloway and Powell has led the county through it all and the community has stepped up as a whole during this tough time.

“Watching these individuals and how they’ve responded and the compassion they’ve shown in the vaccination clinics and prior to that the testing clinics, it really has been very rewarding that part of the response,” King said. “This really is a community that cares about people.”

At both the Harrisonburg City Council meeting and the Rockingham County Board of Supervisors meetings last week, Helmuth, Holloway, and Powell were recognized by the Director of the Central Shenandoah Health District Dr. Laura Kornegay for the work they have done in keeping the community safe.

“To be recognized by her, who has put in countless hours and who I have had to call in the middle of the night just to say ‘I just need guidance,’ was very meaningful,” Helmuth said.

The community leaders say teamwork has been key through everything.

“It takes a village. It’s a partnership. It’s the community partnerships that help to make an organization successful,” Powell said.

While the pandemic is not over yet, these individuals say they are proud of how far the localities have come and said some of the lessons learned will continue even after the pandemic has ended.

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