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Lucky Few Get Early Shots As Cleveland Preps For Mass Vax Site Opening

Grocery store worker Lola Castillo waits outside the Wolstein Center on Cleveland State's campus Monday afternoon for a COVID-19 vaccine. While the mass vaccination site does not officially open until later this week, some people, including U.S. Department of Defense employees, were offered shots early as part of the site's preparation. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
Grocery store worker Lola Castillo waits outside the Wolstein Center on Cleveland State's campus Monday afternoon for a COVID-19 vaccine. While the mass vaccination site does not officially open until later this week, some people were offered shots early as part of the site's preparation. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

The mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland officially opens Wednesday, but certain groups have been offered shots there already.

Some employees of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Cleveland office, as well as some members of Cleveland-area community organizations and churches, received their first doses at the site Monday.

“An email went out about 9:30 this morning and it said there were, I think, 180 slots," said Department of Defense employee Robert Herlihy. “I figured what the heck, and I didn’t expect to get it … so I just told them okay, I’ll get the shot and work from home the rest of the day.”

The Department of Defense is one of the agencies supporting the mass vaccination clinic, alongside the Ohio National Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and state emergency and health departments.

More than 100 people stood in line outside the Wolstein Center for their appointments Monday afternoon. Most appeared to be federal employees, while Heinen’s employee Lola Castillo said she heard about Monday’s shots from her church.

“I am 51, and I’ve been working since day one at the grocery store,” Castillo said. “I’m really happy I’m going to get the shot, because several of my coworkers already got sick.”

Castillo attends Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights. She and her wife had been scouring the Ohio Department of Health’s vaccine registration portal for appointments since they became eligible last week, she said.

“I’m going to be very relieved [when] I get the shot today,” Castillo said.

While the Wolstein site will become fully operational Wednesday, some vaccines are being offered early so that vaccine administrators and site volunteers can prepare for the mass numbers of people eventually expected, Ohio National Guard officials said.

About 1,500 doses will be administered at the site for a soft launch Tuesday, Brigadier Gen. Rebecca O’Connor said.

“We will ramp it up 1,500 more each day until we reach that 6,000 goal, because we don’t want to make people stand in long lines while we’re getting the kinks out of it,” she said.

The goal is to get to 6,000 vaccines by Friday, O’Connor added.

What to expect when you go to the Wolstein Center clinic

The clinic will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, she added. No walk-ups are permitted at this time, and all appointments must be made ahead of time, she said. 

The vaccinations will occur on the floor of the Wolstein Center, which is currently set up with 480 chairs spaced apart. 

Vaccines will be administered on the floor of the Wolstein Center arena, which holds 480 chairs spaced apart. Vaccinators will move down the aisles, bringing the shots to those who are seated. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

Due to the large numbers of people eventually expected at the site, individuals should arrive no sooner than 30 minutes before their scheduled appointment, O’Connor said. 

“We’re going to have 6,000 people flowing through this facility a day, and so to make sure that we manage that flow, [and] don’t have too many at one point and not enough ... we kind of need people to stay within that half an hour of arrival,” she said. 

When they arrive for their appointment, individuals should line up outside Gate B, and will be permitted into the indoor queue line after first passing a temperature screening. People must wear a mask or face covering and have a temperature of under 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, O’Connor said. 

Ohio National Guard members stand at the Gate B entrance of the Wolstein Center, where people will get their temperature taken before being admitted to the indoor queue line. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

Then, they will make their way through the line inside, down the steps in the auditorium, and then take a seat on the floor of the convocation center, she said. 

Vaccinators will then bring the shots to those who are seated, O’Connor said. 

“The vaccinators will come with carts, rolling them down the aisle, and administering the vaccination at that time,” she said. “The customers will then wait their 15 or 30 minutes, depending on their health screening, and then they will be able to leave.” 

The goal is for people sitting in the front row to be done with their 15-minute waiting period by the time the vaccinators have reached the back row, she said. The flow of vaccinations will be continuous, with about 500 people getting shots per hour, she added. 

Those who need special accommodations, such as wheelchair accessibility, should enter through Gate A on Prospect Avenue. For people who are not able to get down to the convocation floor or need other assistance, a separate area in the building is set up with about 80 chairs, where the vaccine flow process will be the same, O’Connor said. 

Brig. Gen. Rebecca O'Connor stands in front of the second vaccination area in the Wolstein Center, set up for those needing special accommodations such as wheelchair access. About 80 chairs are set up for this group. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

“Someone used the analogy that this is the Lamborghini flow versus the Ford flow – in the Lamborghini, you take the parts to the car; Ford, you move the car,” she said. “Here, we’re trying to accommodate the age groups that we believe we’re going to have, and we believe this will be a better experience if they go to one spot, sit, and we come to them.” 

The vaccinators are 32 active-duty members of the U.S. Army 101 st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, O’Connor said. 

Where should you park?

According to the site’s  parking map, people can park for free in any of the CSU lots surrounding the arena. There is also a drop-off for those needing wheelchair accessibility in the front of the building on Prospect, and a rideshare drop off near Gate B on E 21 st street. 

What should you bring?

Individuals must bring proof of their registration, which they should have received after registering on the state’s online scheduling portal. The document also comes with a QR code for smart phones, O’Connor said. People can either scan the QR code on their smart phone, or print the document and bring it upon entry, O’Connor said. 

If they do not have either, volunteers will be able to verify an individual’s appointment by looking up their name in the registration system, she added. 

People should also bring a mask, as they will not be permitted inside without one. Free masks will be provided to those who do not have one, O’Connor said. 

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.