‘Help is on the way:’ Seminole begins delivering COVID-19 vaccine to those in need

More appointments expected to open up soon

A nurse prepares a vaccine prior to the vaccination of elderly people at a nursing house in Athens, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021. Vaccinations were expanded from 9 to 50 hospitals nationwide on Monday. (Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool via AP)

SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County leaders say the process of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine has been going well thus far and now they’re looking to expand their efforts by delivering doses to those in need.

Seminole County Emergency Manager Alan Harris made the announcement Monday afternoon while speaking at the Oviedo Mall, which has been a site for vaccinating seniors over 65 since Dec. 28.

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About 800 people have been vaccinated at that site per day, for a total of about 3,225, and starting Tuesday, that will increase to 900 shots per day.

The county is looking at potentially moving to another larger site and has also added more call center workers and increased website capacity to meet the demand for appointments.

“We believed initially that we could put enough people through here and social distance and it was very clear after the first day, and that’s why we did the soft opening, that we would need to double and triple the size and we have done so. We’re actually now even looking at a larger area where we can keep people out of the elements, keep them warm, it’s cold outside today, do a nice reservation system, have them come in, come out. It’ll be easy and quick and efficient and comfortable,” Harris said.

Seminole County Chairman Lee Constantine said appointments are booked through Jan. 9 and the next round of openings won’t be available until the county receives its next vaccine shipment, which could happen Monday or Tuesday.

Residents can visit PrepareSeminole.org, call the citizen’s hotline at 407-665-0000 or text “COVID19 info” to 888777 to stay up to date on when appointments become available.

While officials on Monday said they’ve been happy with what they’ve seen in the past week at the Oviedo Mall, they acknowledged that not everyone has the means to get to the vaccination site.

That’s why starting Tuesday, mobile delivery teams will begin visiting certain communities to provide the shots to residents who likely wouldn’t have access otherwise.

“Now we talked about this before we started to do the vaccine rollout, that we would go into transportation-disadvantaged communities, senior living, 55-plus communities, etc. So we will begin that starting tomorrow, we will be doing direct delivery to transportation-disadvantaged communities, low-income communities as well as senior, 55-plus communities, and we’re going to continue that operation as long as vaccine doses continue to be funneled here to the county so that we can continue those services,” Harris said.

Officials didn’t provide information on which communities they plan on visiting this week.

Florida Department of Health in Seminole Health Officer Donna Walsh said her mobile team has already gone to homes of 70 at-risk seniors with mobility or transportation issues so they could get inoculated.

“We will continue those efforts through working through the county, and the citizens information line, folks can call in if they’re unable to make it to one of these events, and we basically screen and see if they qualify for mobile services. There is no fee, it’s absolutely free of charge, this is supported by Seminole County government. So we will be going out to help those individuals,” Walsh said.

The vaccine expansion couldn’t come soon enough as officials said recent COVID-19 numbers have been on the rise.

“Today we have seen an increase of COVID-19 at an alarming rate. We knew this could occur, of course, during the holiday season and unfortunately it has. As the chairman mentioned, we have seen a 10% increase just over the weekend and just when I left the emergency operation center a few moments ago, 10 additional people have already been entered into our hospital system. So we are now at over 120 individuals in the hospital systems here in Seminole County with COVID,” Harris said.

According to Walsh, the numbers are worse now than they were in July when the state was believed to have experienced its peak in infections.

“We do completely understand COVID fatigue, you know, people wanting to get together with family and friends but we cannot stress collectively enough the importance of continuing to be vigilant. We’re not through this yet,” she said.

The same goes for Seminole County Public Schools as Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin said the district on Monday welcomed back an additional 7,600 students who switched from virtual to in-person learning for the new semester.

He said the same safety protocols will remain in place on campus and students need to be careful both during and out of class.

“A lot of times what happens, I think, we put our guard down over the weekend, and then students come back or adults come back and they’ve been in contact with somebody positive and we have to quarantine more. So it’s really just keeping those basic mask wearing, hand cleaning, social distancing in place and then we deal with every single case that we have to at school,” Griffin said.

As vaccine efforts expand, he said Seminole County teachers are anxiously awaiting their shots.

“I’ve been contacted personally by teachers just asking me to please help so they can get vaccinated. They want to be back at work, they want to be face-to-face but they want to feel safe,” Griffin said.

Constantine said others in the community are just as eager and he wants those residents to know their time will come.

“The one thing that we all want to bring out today is: Hope is on the way, help is on the way. And Seminole County is ready, willing and able to do whatever we can to provide this vaccine,” he said.

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