“I’m very happy, emotional,” said Figueroa, 65. She spoke to the Observer through a translator (Atrium Health’s community health project manager Rita Dominguez), and said she moved to Charlotte six months ago from Venezuela.
Figueroa was especially excited because her great-granddaughter was born Thursday and she can’t wait to see her.
Plenty more vaccines are coming this weekend at the site. Atrium Health, Honeywell, Tepper Sports & Entertainment and Charlotte Motor Speedway formed a public-private partnership that expects to vaccinate 19,000 people at the Friday through Sunday event.
The event is one of the largest mass vaccine projects in the U.S., Atrium Health officials said.
The vaccine clinic at the Carolina Panthers stadium in uptown Charlotte, which is fully booked, is by appointment only. People with appointments are asked to arrive no more than 15 minutes ahead of their appointment time.
“This is exactly the kind of way that Bank of America Stadium should be used — for the benefit of our community,” Tepper Sports & Entertainment President Tom Glick told reporters Friday. Some 8,500 people are scheduled to get vaccines on Saturday alone.
Coordinating the shots
Charlotte-based Honeywell coordinated many of the logistics of the mass vaccination event. Most people getting the vaccines were out of the stadium in 25 minutes, Honeywell Chief Supply Chain Officer Torsten Pilz said.
Roughly 120 Honeywell employees are scheduled to volunteer at the stadium each day this weekend, according to Honeywell. And Pilz said both volunteers and patients seemed emotional Friday — happy, laughing, even teary-eyed.
“I saw many people leaving this area with tears in their eyes,” Pilz said. “They had hope.”
In the first day of the event, 2,400 people got vaccines, Pilz said. People had the option to either get vaccinated by a drive-through process or walking into the stadium, all of which was by appointment only. Roughly 80% of the people vaccinated at the stadium were walk-ins.
Many of the physicians administering shots and working at the events are volunteers, according to Atrium. Over 1,000 Atrium employees signed up to volunteer at the mass vaccination events in the first 24 hours.
Atrium’s Dr. David Callaway works in the emergency department, dealing with the “death and destruction” brought by the coronavirus pandemic.
Many nurses and doctors across the country have talked about feeling burnt out, he said. But giving out thousands of vaccinations has been “energizing.”
“The degree of hope and thankfulness that we see with all the patients out here is tremendous,” Callaway said. “…There’s been nothing more uplifting than being out here vaccinating people.”
For one woman, getting her first shot at one of Charlotte’s largest landmarks was the perfect way to celebrate moving to a new city. Terrie Payne, 69, officially moved to Charlotte from Durham last Saturday — though she’s spent most of the pandemic in Charlotte, staying with family.
After getting the shot, she urged others: “just to take it and just get on with our lives.”
‘Come and get the vaccine’
For her part, Figueroa said she was excited when she heard her age group was eligible to get the COVID-19 shot. North Carolina is currently vaccinating frontline health care providers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities and anyone age 65 and up.
She encouraged other Latinos in Charlotte to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible.
“We’ve been dealing with this pandemic for a year,” she said. “I encourage them to trust, and come and get the vaccine.”
More events planned
The event follows last weekend’s vaccination event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, which saw 15,700 people get their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
The Bank of America event had its own set of challenges, Honeywell’s director of engineering for building technologies Greg Turner said.
The speedway was a drive-thru event only — so for the stadium event, organizers had to build in time for people to take off coats and roll up sleeves and fill the stadium concourse with heaters.
Organizers have a headquarters on the fourth floor in the Bank of America Stadium, where they monitor the event, Turner said. That includes an AI-camera powered system monitoring cars driving through the process, predicting wait times.
The event is drawing in people from across North Carolina — including nearly 60 counties, Atrium CEO Gene Woods said in a statement.
The public-private partnership will host follow-up events to give people their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccines. Those events will run from Feb. 12 through Feb. 14 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and from Feb. 26 to Feb. 28 at Bank of America Stadium.
Novant Health also has plans for two mass vaccination sites in Charlotte, but the hospital system says it needs more vaccines from the state before it can move forward.
Atrium received 35,000 COVID-19 vaccines from the state this week, while Novant Health received roughly 5,000.
The Bank of America event comes just one day after Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris announced she would extend the county’s directive urging residents to stay home as much as possible through Feb. 28.
Mecklenburg County has seen some improvement in COVID-19 trends in recent weeks, with coronavirus hospitalizations and the county’s positivity rate trending down.
But the improvements are still “tenuous,” Harris said in an email to county manager Dena Diorio, which Diorio shared with commissioners Thursday.