Amid the pandemic, Aiden Taylor’s responsibilities range far wider than most others’.
Meal deliveries must be managed. A positive COVID-19 test means attending a string of video conferences to help determine next response steps. Calls must be made to Lowe’s and Walmart to seek badly needed supplies.
Then there’s that Advanced Placement test Friday.
The executive director of the Clay County Community Emergency Response Team is also a Clay County High School sophomore. He is 16. Only his youthful face shows his age as he sits at a desk in a suit and tie with response team pins affixed to his lapels. The team headquarters is located a few feet from his home in Wallback, where he lives with his parents and the family cats and dogs.
He refers to himself as “a training buff,” having been instructed in administering naloxone, active shooter response, sports medicine, first aid, bullying prevention, litter control and developing and managing volunteers. He maintains a stack of his certificates along with personnel files for team volunteers, 50 or so of them, in a locked safe near the back of his office.
The training provides ready answers for occasional skeptics.
“People ask, you know, you’re 16 years old, how do you do this? So I back it all up with training, any training I can. I wouldn’t do anything I don’t have the knowledge to do,” Taylor said. “If you think my age is a drawback, I’ll just impress you with what I can do.”
A year ago, Taylor founded the response team, which organizes and trains volunteers to help educate locals on disaster preparedness, aid in community projects and support first-responders such as paramedics and firefighters.
That all was before the virus.
“We just brought on two new staff members and I told them, ‘I really hate that this is your first month of working. We don’t normally do this,’” Taylor said. “Normally, we help citizens to get prepared with information that’s generalized for disasters. Now, we have this specific, ongoing situation that changes every hour, and our response may have to change every hour with it.”
Taylor and his response team partnered with the West Virginia Mask Army to distribute more than 1,000 masks to first-responders, doctors, essential businesses and residents. The team also distributed hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to small businesses.
Last week, Taylor and his team administrators developed a response line for the elderly allowing them to call and request services, such as meal delivery or prescription pickups. Already, some elderly have been helped, Taylor said.
On Wednesday, Clay recorded its first COVID-19 case, a positive test for a resident who works outside the county, according to local health officer Dr. Leela Patel.
“I think we all knew cases were coming. It was just a matter of time,” Taylor said. “We’d been discussing it, having meetings via teleconference, figuring out what we would do when we start seeing cases.”
As of Wednesday, about 300 of the county’s 8,500 residents had been tested, according to Angela Brown, administrator at Clay’s Health Department. By Friday, there were two positive cases.
Just three counties — Webster, Calhoun and Doddridge — have yet to record a case. Those counties, like Clay, are mostly rural with relatively small populations, all below 10,000.
“Clay County is quite quiet. We all know what’s going on with each other and the people take care of each other,” Patel said. “We understand if one of us is noncompliant, it affects all of us.”
Patel said locals diligently have followed public health guidelines since orders were issued at the state level. Taylor agreed.
“If people go out, they’re wearing masks. They aren’t going out unnecessarily, and they’re doing this because they know they’re not just protecting themselves, they’re protecting their neighbors, friends and family,” Taylor said.
Twenty percent of Clay’s population is 65 or older, compared to 15% nationwide, according to the latest census data. Older people are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. The response team’s call line helps protect that group and keeps the community connected, Taylor said.
“In an emergency response capacity, we’re talking about every sector of the population we serve: the public sector, the private sector, the youth sector, the elderly sector — every demographic we have,” Taylor said. “If we can keep people together and keep our focus on meeting the needs of each group, we’re going to be OK.”
Volunteers now are working to prevent the spread of the virus following the first positive tests, Taylor said.
“We knew we would get here, and the response is changing, but truly it’s not as large a change as we expected because we had these plans in place before. We were ready before,” Taylor said.
He spent Thursday, the day after the first COVID-19 case was confirmed, in a string of video conferences with different organizations and agencies. And he’s helping a team administrator compile a database of his group’s volunteers.
Taylor’s work with the team consumes an average or 40 to 50 hours a week, all while he continues juggling schoolwork.
“We’re a close-knit community and we will take care of each other no matter what, but with [the response team], we have a way to organize what that looks like, to fill gaps where needed,” Taylor said. “It may not be gold filling those gaps, but it’s going to be someone who looks like gold. Someone who is going to work hard and who cares about the people here.”
His team calls him the “paperwork king,” an understandable title considering the file cabinets filled with reports and informational waivers next to his desk. His precocity does not prevent him from understanding what matters to people his age.
“We all live here. Most people have lived here their whole lives. We want to help keep everyone safe and I do think, with [the team] having people involved at different levels — especially, maybe, during a pandemic — citizens are thinking about the choices they make and how they affect everyone,” Taylor said. “This is our home and we’re going to prepare those that live here any way we can for whatever might come. It’s our responsibility.”