Colorado’s only FEMA-supported mass vaccination site opens in Loveland

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Larimer County is now home to Colorado’s only mass COVID-19 vaccination site operated in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The site, located at The Ranch Events Complex in Loveland, held a soft opening on Tuesday and officially opened Wednesday, vaccinating about 1,000 people between the two days. The site is expected to vaccinate about 1,000 people per day Thursday and Friday.

Starting next week, it will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Julie Brooks, spokesperson for FEMA, said the site has requested 12,000 vaccines for next week, which would allow the site to vaccinate 2,000 people per day. 

“This is one of the easiest ways to get your vaccines, you don’t even have to get out of your car,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who came to the site’s opening on Wednesday. Polis talked to people being vaccinated and expressed gratitude for the partnerships with Larimer County and FEMA that made the site possible. 

“These are large-scale, simple, fast, easy sites, and so when it comes to the quantity of vaccines that we are getting and will get, sites like this will play a major role in helping to serve the people of Colorado, to end the pandemic, and to save lives,” he said. 

Representatives from FEMA, the Colorado Department of Emergency Management, Larimer County Commissioners and Larimer County Public Health joined Polis at the site Wednesday.

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The Ranch clinic is one of six major drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination sites across Colorado, but it’s the only one with a FEMA partnership. It has the capacity to conduct about 6,000 vaccinations daily when supply allows.

Last month, Polis said Colorado was getting about 100,000 doses per week. The number is now up to 300,000 and he believes another hundred thousand will be added soon. He said the state will likely move to the next phase of vaccinations in early April but has not yet set a date. 

Tom Gonzalez, Larimer County’s public health director, said the opening of the Ranch vaccination site will make a significant difference in the county’s vaccinations as it’s the only site in the county capable of giving more than 3,000 vaccinations daily. 

“You’re going from a two- to three-week wait to two to three days, it really just opens it up for those that are eligible,” he said. 

Sydney Beier, a customer experience representative at the Harmony Library, was “so excited” to be vaccinated at the site Wednesday afternoon. 

“It’s been a long year, I’ve just been chomping at the bit,” Beier said. “I doubt my behavior is going to change for a while, but I’ll feel so much safer.” 

Abby Eichorn, the site’s incident commander, said FEMA’s role in the site is simply overseeing the operation and providing staffing and support when its needed.

“It does take a really large capacity of human resources,” Eichorn said. “We really just bring it together and where they have shortfalls we try to fill those shortfalls with our resources.”

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Even though the site is co-operated by FEMA, it still relies on the state supply of vaccine. FEMA does operate some sites that receive doses directly from the federal supply, but Colorado does not have one. 

Nancy Dragani, acting regional administrator for FEMA Region 8, said there are hundreds of sites being run in partnership with FEMA across the country similar to the Loveland site. Polis said he’s hoping to get another site open in partnership with FEMA in Colorado soon, possibly in Pueblo.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks on the opening day of the mass vaccination site at The Ranch events complex in Loveland, Colo. on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Polis said he expects mass vaccination sites in the state to run through June so that every Coloradan who wants a vaccine has access, but Brooks said that, as of Wednesday, FEMA presence had only been requested for eight weeks. 

The drive-thru set up of the site allows for people to quickly get their shot and be monitored all from the safety of their own car. Brooks said each shot takes less than five minutes and with the 15-minute monitoring period most people are out in less than a half hour.

Chuck Hawley, a contractor for the USDA, said he was happy to be receiving his vaccine Wednesday afternoon. Hawley it was a “very easy” process to get signed up and come out; after looking around at other sites he found the Ranch option and said there was plenty of availability. 

A paramedic administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Dawn Trotter of Loveland at the mass vaccination site at The Ranch events complex in Loveland, Colo. on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

A drive-thru clinic does present equity issues, which Polis said the state is working to make up for through its equity clinics. He said vaccination opportunities are present in “medically underserved communities” and Colorado and its vaccination partners are working to “make it convenient and easy for folks that might not be able to come to a site like this.” Services that provide transportation are also available when people make appointments through the COVID-19 vaccine hotline, 1-877-268-2926. 

Traffic was slow Wednesday morning for the opening, but volunteers and FEMA workers expected it to pick up in the afternoon when people were able to come after work. 

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Christine Trujillo, a volunteer at the site, felt volunteering at the site was the “perfect” way to get out of the house and do something good during her retirement. She is volunteering four days over the course of two weeks and was directing traffic in one of the eight lanes on Wednesday.

Trujillo said she was impressed with how organized and calm the operation was and that it allowed the community to get involved. 

People currently eligible for vaccination can make an appointment at The Ranch, or another provider, through larimerhealth.secure.force.com/Vaccine or by calling 970-498-5500. If you are eligible but have transportation restrictions, transportation can be provided to you at little to no cost, according to county representatives. 

Those currently eligible for vaccines in Colorado are: 

  • Anyone age 50 or older
  • Anyone age 16 and older with at least one high-risk health condition
  • Student-facing higher education faculty and staff
  • Food and restaurant employees 
  • Manufacturing workers
  • U.S. Postal Service employees 
  • Public and specialized transportation employees 
  • Public health employees 
  • Human services employees
  • People providing direct services to Coloradans experiencing homelessness 
  • Front-line journalists 
  • Select local and state government employees
  • Adults who received a placebo in a COVID-19 vaccine trial
  • Agriculture workers
  • Grocery store employees
  • Pre-K-12 educators, school staff and child care workers in licensed programs 
  • Health care workers
  • Long-term care facility staff and residents
  • First responders, including police, firefighters, correctional workers, funeral services workers and COVID-19 response personnel
  • Select members of the state executive and judicial branches 

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Molly Bohannon covers education for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @molboha or contact her at mbohannon@coloradoan.com. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.