Thursday, May 30, 2024

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County leases vacant retail building to move COVID vaccination indoors

Alamance County’s commissioners have approved a deal that will ultimately enable the county’s health department to bring its coronavirus vaccination efforts out of the cold.

During a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, the board of commissioners unanimously accepted a lease agreement that will allow the health department to administer the vaccine in a large retail building near the interstate interchange for Alamance Road, or NC Highway 62 (Interstate Exit 143).

At the moment, the health department is using the parking lot of the local school system’s Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC) to administer the first dose of the vaccine to eligible recipients. Aside from the logistical difficulties of this site, which is located just off of North Church Street in Burlington, it has apparently left healthcare workers and the vaccine dangerously exposed to the elements.

The county’s health director, Tony Lo Giudice, told the commissioners that the tents which the county has set up near CTEC offer meager protection for his agency’s operations. Lo Giudice added that this setup leaves both people and property vulnerable to bad drivers, who he said have already nicked some of the county’s high-dollar equipment.

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Alamance County health department director Tony Lo Giudice briefs county commissioners this week on the department’s COVID vaccination efforts and overall COVID statistics for the county.

In order to resolve these issues, the county’s administrators have negotiated a three-month lease with the owners of a vacant commercial building at 2401 Eric Lane, which is part of a shopping center anchored by JR Cigar Outlet. Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood told the board of commissioners that this edifice, which is currently vacant, has several advantages over the CTEC parking lot.

“The space at Eric Lane is very large,” Hagood told the county’s governing board. “[It has] very much open space, has high ceilings, and is good for social distancing…the facility will be cleaned twice a day and will also see frequent cleaning of highly touched surfaces.”

Commissioners and public want to know why Alamance County is not yet allowing vaccinations for those between 65-74, when state has authorized it and other counties have started offering it to those seniors.  See separate story:

At Hagood’s behest, the commissioners unanimously approved the agreement, which will allow the county to lease the building for $23,958.33 a month or $71,874.99 for the full three-month term of the lease. Hagood told the commissioners that the county will be able to renew the lease on the month by month basis. He went on to extrapolate that the county would spend a total of $119,791.65 to lease the facility through the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

Although the lease became effective the same day it was authorized, the county manager said that he expects the site to be ready for use by March 1. Hagood added that the building will initially serve as the designated site for the administration of the first dose of the vaccine, although he predicted that, at some point, it will also become the locus for the second dose, which is presently being administered in an outdoor setting at the Burlington Athletic Stadium.

Before the commissioners signed off on this lease agreement, they entertained a competing proposal that commissioner Bill Lashley had pitched as a less costly alternative. Lashley told the rest of the board that he had done some shopping around on his own on the assumption that a 25,000 square-foot facility would far exceed the county’s actual needs.

“I found some retail space that I believe will work for this particular operation,” he added, “and it would be a WHOOOOLE lot less expensive.”

The commissioner went on to present a prospective deal with the owners of Holly Hill Mall that would allow the county to lease a 5,000-square-foot retail space for a fee of $5,000 a month. Lashley added that he has the property owner’s assurance that, if the county is interested in this site, it could be available within seven days.

Lashley’s proposal nevertheless lost some of its burnish when the county’s health director insisted that he and his colleagues will need more than 5,000 square feet to house their vaccination program. Lo Giudice told the commissioners that the county’s administrators didn’t even look at prospective sites on that scale because of the health department’s space needs.

“The smallest space that we’ve looked at was 15,000 square feet and that was the Fairchild Community Center, and that was just barely adequate,” he added. “A lot of the bottleneck will be in the observation area, and that’s putting people in a really big room…for 15 to 30 minutes.”

In the meantime, the cost to rent the building on Eric Lane began to look better to the commissioners once they realized how much the county already spends to administer the vaccine in the CTEC parking lot. Lo Giudice told the county’s governing board that about $27,000 a month currently goes into tent rentals, porta-potties, and other inoculation-related expenses. He added that the bill just for the tents and heaters at CTEC is about $13,000 a month.

Hagood went on the assure the commissioners that the county would more or less break even on its inoculation expenses once it relocates the administration of the second dose from the Burlington Athletic Stadium to the building on Eric Lane. The implications of this acknowledgement weren’t lost on John Paisley, Jr., the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners.

“So, in a couple of months we will be spending the same number of dollars at another facility,” he said before the board gave its unanimous nod to the lease.

In addition to the anticipated benefits of an indoor facility, Lo Giudice told the commissioners that he expects the local health department to be able to inoculate residents more quickly and efficiently than ever before thanks, in part, to a partnership with Greensboro-based Cone Health.

The county’s health director said that this partnership, whose details are still being nailed down, will eventually allow Cone Health’s employees to administer shots side-by-side with the health department’s own nurses. He added that the regional hospital chain will also provide some assistance with “targeted communication” to “historically marginalized populations.”

Meanwhile, Cone Health has announced its own location for vaccinations in Alamance County at 2363 Corporation Parkway at the former Burlington Manufacturers Outlet Center. See separate story this edition:

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