To cope with the increasing need to vaccinate local residents against COVID-19, Dawson County officials are finalizing plans to set up a long-term vaccine distribution location at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Dawson County.
Speaking to the Dawson County Board of Commissioners on Thursday night, Dawson County Fire Chief and EMA Director Danny Thompson said that this long-term vaccination site would allow the Dawson County Health Department, a local office of the Georgia Department of Health, to distribute hundreds of vaccines a day to local residents at a location with more parking options and space than is currently available at the local health department office in downtown Dawsonville.
Thompson said that the county was previously approached by DPH about setting up a secondary vaccination site earlier this year with two possible locations that were ultimately discarded, due to parking and space concerns. But with the help of staff from the Dawson County Parks and Recreation Department, they decided that Veterans Memorial Park, off Hwy. 9 N, would be the best location for the secondary vaccine site.
“Obviously, We’ve been working with the department of health, both our local and the district office, for several weeks,” Thompson said. “Literally the day after we hosted our first mass vaccination site we began working with them to establish more vaccines within the community.”
Though they have faith the site at Veterans Memorial Park will work, Thompson said that there are several obstacles left to overcome before they start vaccinating local residents.
Thompson said that the main issues they need to address at Veteran’s Memorial Park are the problems that the park’s layout would pose to local residents with mobility challenges.
“The issue with Veterans, and all of us know, is that we’re still in that Tier 1A phase, which is 65 and older, and you have some of that community that has mobility challenges and Veteran’s is not real conducive to that,” Thompson said. “It only has six handicapped spots that are right there in close proximity of the building.”
To get around that issue, Thompson and Dawson County Public Information Officer Laura Fulcher said that county staff would look into purchasing a golf cart to shuttle mobility-challenged residents from the parking lot, as well as using one of the county’s transit buses if the need arises and implementing a pull through drop off system at the site, so that mobility challenged residents could be dropped off close to the vaccination site while a relative parks.
“I think if we get (a golf cart), we’ll be good because we can use a transit bus as well,” Thompson said.
For this secondary vaccination site, which will reportedly operate Monday through Thursday starting sometime in March, Thompson said that DPH staff and volunteers will take on the majority of the work themselves, with just a little assistance from parks personnel to set the event up and tear it down
“They are supplying all of the staff, so really the heavy lift is going to come from (Dawson County Parks and Recreation Director) Matt Payne and his staff,” he said. “They haven’t asked for any resources from us, they are going to use nursing students and everything else.”
When the site gets up and running, Thompson said they expect to give out about 100 vaccines a day, slowly ramping up to 500 per day as vaccines become more available.
“They are looking at this event to be going from now until the end of the year, so this is a long sustaining project,” he said.
Speaking on the “uncharted territory” of COVID-19 that county staff and health department workers have forged through in the past year, District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines told Thompson that he has been impressed by how the different county offices have worked together to serve residents.
Gaines said that he went down to Rock Creek Park on Thursday to see residents receiving their second round of COVID-19 vaccines from the January mass vaccination event and saw a smoothly working process that got people in and vaccinated in short order.
That cooperation was how things needed to be done, he said.
“The way that they have stepped up and pulled alongside the state facilities in order to help increase the capacities that are available to serve our community is a prime example of what communities should do and what it should be about,” Gaines said.
Although no exact date has been set for when the Veterans Memorial Park vaccination site will open to the public, Thompson said they would share more information with the board and local residents as soon as possible.
“As that date is firmed, you all will know. We will make sure that that information is shared,” he said.