As part of its sweeping efforts to inoculate residents and workers against COVID-19, the City of Long Beach has established multiple COVID-19 vaccination sites, including mobile clinics. By far the largest of these sites is located at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center, an operation that since debuting in January has been recognized by national news outlets and top government officials – including Governor Gavin Newsom — as a leading example of public health efficiency.
“We set up at the Convention Center in January for three main reasons,” explained Jennifer Rice Epstein, Media Relations Lead for the City’s Joint Information Center. “First, we wanted the ability to vaccinate people with limited impact to traffic, local residents, and businesses in a location that is also accessible by public transit for those who want to visit the walk-up side of the clinic. Second, we wanted to be able to provide vaccines in hot or rainy weather; the vaccinations take place in the shelter of the convention center garages. Third, we wanted a site that was scalable as more vaccines became available. This week we are able to offer 3,500 vaccine appointments per day, which we couldn’t do anywhere else in the city.”
As shared on the City’s COVID-19 digital scoreboard, Long Beach has now inoculated almost 69,000 of its residents with the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. “The work we’re doing has definitely set a tone for the rest of the nation,” said Alice Castellanos, Prevention Coordinator for the Long Beach Health & Human Services Department, who was recruited to be Chief of Operations at the clinic site. “The Public Health Emergency Management (PHEM) team, which coordinated the entire operation, was a fairly small team who needed our support. It takes everyone to jump on board, being flexible and patient, rolling with last-minute changes.”
Briefed at the beginning and end of each day, the Clinic staff is constantly evaluating and changing how systems are working, examining every way to vaccinate as many Long Beach residents as possible. “We’re learning fast, multi-tasking and making decisions under pressure,” Castellanos said. “It’s like we’re building the plane and flying it at the same time.”
The clinic staff and volunteers include the Long Beach Police and Fire Departments, the National Guard, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), the Medical Reserve Corps, and the City’s Special Events and Health Departments. At both the Clinic and the City’s COVID-19 Call Center, Health Department employees were recruited from their regular jobs to serve at COVID-related duties.
Kristina Gollinger, who moved from her normal position as PHEM nurse to become Site Manager of the Clinic, expressed her gratitude for the volunteers; “I’m so blown away by their commitment,” she said. “Some of our volunteers are here three or four days of the week, putting in between five and ten hours a day. They arrive with a smile, and they leave with a smile. They love what they do, they’re extremely passionate, and we really can’t run the site without them.”
Upon arrival at the Clinic, drivers enter a line which can be expanded into a safety cone maze to accommodate hundreds of cars at a time. Their documentation is verified, followed by registration for the proper vaccine type and dose, a quick screening, and then the shot. After that, the vaccine recipients drive to a holding area where they are observed for adverse reactions for fifteen minutes. On the average day, the entire process takes between 30 and 45 minutes.
It takes constant effort and communication to keep the Clinic flowing every Monday through Saturday. “It gets complex, with the different intervals between shots for the two vaccines,” said Castellanos. “Some people don’t get the email notifications, or even have access to technology at all. Our Equity Team has been very involved in making sure that we have smaller vaccination pods in local community centers and churches to focus on our communities of color — especially our Latino community, which has been hit very hard.”
At the Clinic, there is a palpable sense of community, camaraderie, and of history being made. “The National Guard and other volunteers were brought to tears by the amount of support they have received,” said Gollinger. “On the Clinic’s opening day, people were driving in cheering and honking their horns. It was a monumental moment for everyone, celebrating being able to be with families again, to say ‘I love you’ in person.”
For information and updates about COVID-19 and to register for a vaccination appointment, visit VAXLB.