The Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo has hosted a federally-run COVID-19 mass vaccination site since early April. It launched to increase capacity for vaccinations, up to 3,000 a day, in addition to making it easier for the surrounding rural counties to vaccinate people with mobile sites.
But FEMA spokesperson Julie Brooks said the site's traffic is unpredictable -- apart from being well below capacity.
"Some days are 500, the next day will be 200, and then we go up to 1,500," said Brooks. "There really is no rhyme or reason other than that Friday and Saturday seem to be the busiest days. So it's really hard to tell."
The site's first day of operation, April 14, wasn't marked by long wait times or the visuals of cars lined up down the block, said Brooks.
"The site is so efficient, that really, people had almost no wait," said Brooks, who said most people got in and out in less than 30 minutes. "We want to serve as many people as possible."
Brooks said lower turnout has been the case all over the country with mass vaccination sites, but she's celebrating the fact that people are getting vaccinated. It's not often she and her team get to stick around to see the impact of their work in the community.
"Often our team goes into a crisis, and we hand it off to somebody else for recovery," said Brooks.
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"This is kind of a start-to-finish. We get to directly meet with people who have weighed that choice and have made a decision to get vaccinated. It's rewarding to watch it happen even though we'd love to have it on a grand scale. I'd love to be packed every day with 3,000 people, because it wouldn't take long then to have Pueblo county fully vaccinated at 3,000 a day. But every vaccination gets us one step closer to where we need to be."
Part of the site's efforts have been focused on community outreach, like partnering with Pueblo's District 60 and District 70 schools to host COVID-19 vaccine clinics through May. The clinics each have around 250 doses to distribute.
Director of Communications for Pueblo School District 60 Dalton Sprouse said there have been open appointments at each clinic, so he and the district are working to communicate availability to the rest of the community. He said it's especially important for students as the school year is winding down.
"We want to make sure that our students are available and able to participate in some of these life events like a graduation, so we need them to take that seriously," said Sprouse.
Brooks said she sees the school sites as a success.
"You wouldn't think that 40 or 44 is a significant number, but in a small school district at a small high school, that is a significant number," said Brooks. "It's 44 more people that are vaccinated and can help protect their community."
While Brooks said she's not sure of the reasons behind low turnout overall, she does see one of the site's goals as reaching the "moveable middle," a term for people who haven't made up their minds yet about vaccinations.
"Those are the folks that we're really trying to reach either by providing access that they don't have, information that they don't have, [or] resources that they don't have," said Brooks. "[We're] making it as easy as possible to get a vaccine to help protect their community, help protect their family, help protect themselves."
The pilot site is slated to run for eight weeks into the beginning of June, and Brooks said it's up to the state what happens at the end of eight weeks.
"We would either transition it back to the county and the state for them to continue operation or the site itself dissolves," said Brooks. "Obviously, the summer's a big time for the Colorado State Fairgrounds. And there's clearly not not a reason to operate a site this big, given the numbers that we're getting. It can be done in a smaller space. As far as whether or not they'll continue operating or just transition those appointments to a different location. I just don't know yet."
The Colorado State Fairgrounds COVID-19 mass vaccination site is open 7 days a week, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Walk-ups are welcome, and people can also schedule appointments with Centura Health. Transportation is also available to and from the site via a shuttle bus at the Pueblo Transit Center. The shuttle runs daily from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.