County leaders stress that walk-ups are not allowed; persons should come to the site only if they have been notified that they have appointments
On the afternoon of Jan. 27, Sarasota County’s Health Officer, Chuck Henry, and the Emergency Services Department director, Rich Collins, greeted members of the news media at Sarasota Square mall.
“We’ve been looking for a place that would handle a large capacity that we could move to,” Henry explained, referring to a COVID-19 vaccination site.
And staff had found it within the mall.
The construction of the county’s new Central Energy Plant — or “chiller” — on the surface of the county parking lot across School Avenue from the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County had been a major safety concern, Henry said, in terms of scheduling large numbers of people for appointments at the Health Department.
Moreover, Henry continued, given the fact that persons eligible to receive vaccinations are spread across the county, staff wanted to find a place as centrally located as possible that was indoors and that could be used five to seven days a week.
Although staff conducted clinics last week at Twin Lakes Park on Clark Road, Henry pointed out, an outdoor site poses problems on hot and/or rainy days.
The former storefront in the mall has about 13,000 square feet of space, Henry added, so it is easy to ensure people can be spaced at least 6 feet apart, in accord with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. “We can very comfortably do 1,000 doses a day.”
Moreover, he noted of the mall, “This site offers a tremendous amount of parking and easy access through public transportation.” In fact, Henry said, a Sarasota County Area Transit (SCAT) bus transfer station stands at one corner of the Sarasota Square property.
“We were able to work with the mall staff and leadership,” Collins added, to set up a dedicated vaccination location within Sarasota Square.
The mall is located at 8201 S. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota, near the intersection of South Beneva Road and U.S. 41.
Persons who have been notified that they have appointments for shots can park in Sections B or C of the parking lot and then use the west mall entrance, Sara Nealeigh, the media relations officer for Emergency Services, told The Sarasota News Leader. “There are signs to guide them to the vaccination clinic around the corner,” she added in a Jan. 28 email.
Henry, Collins and other staff members have stressed the importance of people coming to the facility only if they have appointments.
“We’re not doing walk-ups,” Henry pointed out during the media briefing. “We [would] end up with hundreds of people hanging out at the end of the day.”
When staff opens the last, 10-dose vial of Moderna vaccine, Henry added, the goal is to have no more than 10 people left to receive the shots.
Henry has emphasized to the County Commission that he does not want to waste any of the vaccine, as the county has been receiving it in such limited quantities each week. (See the related article in this issue.)
Thursday was the first day for Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County (DOH-Sarasota) staff to hold a clinic at the mall. The previous day, notifications for 1,500 appointments for second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were sent out, Nealeigh noted in an email.
An individual who receives a notification has two hours to confirm or decline the appointment, Nealeigh emphasized in a Jan. 27 email blast to the news media.
“[I]t’s important to confirm or decline the notification,” she continued. “If an individual declines, they do not lose their place in the queue and will be contacted for the next available clinic.”
“Phone calls will display the caller ID 941-861-8297,” she wrote.
Emails will display “Department of Health in Sarasota County COVID-19 Vaccine Registration System (DOHcovid19vaccine@scgov.net),” and text (SMS) messages will show sender ID 88911.
On Thursday, notifications went out for a first dose clinic that will be conducted on Friday, Jan. 29, at the mall, with another 1,500 shots to be delivered, the DOH-Sarasota website said.
Persons who received their first shots on Dec. 29, 30 and 31, 2020 should have received alerts for their appointments this week, Health Officer Henry said during the Jan. 27 media briefing.
Henry also emphasized — as Steve Huard, the Health Department’s public information officer has — that it is not absolutely necessary for a person who received his or her first Moderna dose to get the second one exactly 28 days later. If the second dose is delivered a bit beyond that time frame, Huard has pointed out, medical research has indicated that that should not hamper the vaccine’s effectiveness.
Still, Henry said on Jan. 27, “We want to make sure people get second doses.”
Registration and residency
Collins of Emergency Services did acknowledge what he called a “bump in the process” this week in regard to the county’s new Everbridge vaccine registration system.
On the morning of Jan. 27, Collins said, about 170 notifications were sent out regarding persons’ appointments for second doses. The team was working to determine how that happened and how to prevent such a situation in the future, he added.
Although the appointment times were correct, Collins explained, the wrong date was provided.
Henry also noted that, in accord with a state directive, only county residents and snowbirds are eligible for the vaccine. A person can present a Florida driver’s license or state ID card to prove residency, he said, or a person can bring two types of documents to show the person lives in the county part of each year. Details about the acceptable documents are on the DOH-Sarasota website, he added.
Among the materials accepted are copies of deeds or monthly mortgage statements; a utility hookup or work order that is not older than two months; and mail from a bank or other financial institution that is not more than two months old.