The scene outside the CTEC Center in Burlington resembled a Black Friday blowout sale on Wednesday as the local health department kicked off the first day of coronavirus vaccination for the general public.
Although the inoculations administered to the general public that day were reserved for people 75 years old and older, the turnout nevertheless proved so overwhelming that, by the time the center opened its doors, the line of cars outside the building had already reached the maximum that the city was willing to permit.
The health department had actually commandeered the CTEC Center for vaccine distribution in anticipation of the high demand for coronavirus vaccines. This specialized, trade and technology-oriented high school, which is located off of North Church Street, has much more parking capacity and access to more suitable roads than the health department’s own headquarters along Graham-Hopedale Road.
advice to those who didn’t get vaccine yet:
“The first thing I’d tell them is to be patient. We’re going to vaccinate more people next week and the week after that – and we’ll be doing this for the next couple of months.”
– alamance county health director tony lo Guidice
In order to ensure that the CTEC Center wouldn’t be overwhelmed, a quota system was also developed to manage the turnout for inoculation. This system breaks down each day of vaccination into a morning and an afternoon session and allows no more than 200 vehicles to converge on the center for each session.
In addition to the health department’s own staff, the city of Burlington dispatched members of its police force and a small squadron of civilian staff members to manage the crush of vehicles that would deluge the center on Wednesday. But even the wildest predictions of those tasked with managing the crowd fell short of the reality that greeted them when the CTEC Center opened its doors at 7:00 a.m.
According to Morgan Lasater, the city’s community engagement manager, the health department hadn’t even administered its first shot that morning when the procession of vehicles had reached a length of 200 cars.
“People were there at 3:00 a.m.,” she recalled, “and I got a call at 6:45 a.m. from the police that they were already at the threshold.”
THURSDAY ONLINE UPDATE: The second day brought similarly early risers, according to the health department: Thursday by 6:15 a.m., 45 minutes before opening, the lineup of cars hit the ceiling of 200 cars.
UPDATE FOR FRIDAY: Due to the winter weather forecast for Friday, the department has decided that there will be no vaccinations tomorrow (Friday, January 8, 2021).
Lasater said that the city’s police officers began to turn vehicles away after the 200th car arrived at center. By that point, the vehicles which were queued up for vaccination stretched all the way from CTEC’s campus at 2550 Buckingham Road to the westbound lanes of North Church Street, where a handful of police officers were stationed to intercept late comers.
As the health department’s nurses attended to the people who had gotten in line before the cutoff, the department’s administrators began to break the news to the public that the center had reached its quota for the morning session. They also informed would-be vaccine recipients that additional inoculations would be administered that afternoon, and they encouraged people to show up no earlier than 12:30 p.m. for the second session, which started a half hour later.
According to Alamance County’s health director, Tony Lo Guidice, people began to queue up for the afternoon session well ahead of the recommended arrival time, and it wasn’t long before he and his colleagues were reliving that morning’s experience when they had to cut off the line at the 200th car.
Aside from people 75 years old and older, the health department has also administered the vaccine to first responders and healthcare workers who are likely to come into contact with patients infected by COVID-19, the strain of coronavirus that’s responsible for the ongoing pandemic. Prior to the vaccine’s public debut on Wednesday, healthcare workers and first responders had been the only people to receive inoculations in Alamance County. The health department has been administering the shots to these two groups ever since December 22, when it distributed the first inoculations to its director, medical director, and director of nursing.
Lo Guidice said that he and his colleagues had hoped to vaccinate at least 500 people on Wednesday. He added that the department may very well have attained this goal, notwithstanding the 400-car quota, since many of the vehicles had more than one person eligible for inoculation.
As for the untold number of qualified residents who weren’t able to get vaccinated on Wednesday, Lo Guidice had one, simple piece of advice to ease their chagrin.
“The first thing I’d tell them is to be patient,” he said. “We’re going to vaccinate more people next week and the week after that – and we’ll be doing this for the next couple of months.”
Lo Guidice added that, in the long-term, he hopes to set up an appointment system for vaccinations in lieu of the first-come-first-serve policy that’s currently in place.