For the past few months, Pueblo has been fighting the war against COVID as vigorously as any community in Colorado. And while the battle has sometimes been intense---it was recently the state’s COVID hotspot---Pueblo is a community that knows how to fight back. It’s not only reset the playing field, but also now a model for vaccinating its citizens.
“We’re very proud of our community,” said Sarah Joseph, spokesperson for the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment. The department has commandeered the vacant Sears Automotive Center at the Pueblo Mall and set up a drive through vaccination operation. It is the only vaccination site in the county.
“We started on January 8th,” said Joseph “and thought we could do one (vaccination) every ten minutes.” But it’s worked out even better than they had hoped. The department cut down its times to one every five minutes then “one every two minutes.” Now that the kinks have been worked out, she said, they’re moving “eight cars through every two to five minutes.”
As in most communities, those seventy years of age and above are first in line for the vaccination. Pueblo is inoculating with both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Both vaccines require a second or booster shot. Following the initial vaccination, a second appointment is scheduled.
“We work with the sheriff’s department,” said Joseph, “and they do a reverse call out,” getting people the information they need to know in order to get their shots.
The health department is able to handle 500 vaccinations in the morning and another 500 in the afternoon. While the Sears site is the busiest, Joseph said it’s not the only location for the COVID shot. “Centura, Kaiser and Park View Hospitals are doing it by appointment.”
Reaching the goal of vaccinating a thousand people each day is not out of reach, said Joseph. But during the winter, as her department has learned, weather can sometimes complicate things. There have been snow days when everything was in place to get things done only to be victim to the elements.
It has been just about a year since COVID began its march around the world. At this time last year, the virus was buried well off the nation’s front pages or treated as a ‘B’ or ‘C’ block story in television newscasts. Both cases and deaths from the virus were negligible. How things have changed.
The U.S. has now recorded more than 25 million cases of COVID and the Centers for Disease Control estimates that there could be as many as 600,000 deaths from the virus by March. Colorado has counted nearly 400,000 COVID cases and more than 5,600 deaths. In Pueblo, the last four months of 2020 were a case study in the virus’s capability and lethality.
As the summer ended, managing the virus seemed under control. September recorded just 224 cases. Then the COVID rocket launched. October showed an exponential jump to 1,159 infections. November shattered any estimates with more than 6,300 cases. December dropped to 4,214 and January seemed to be on the same downward arc with less than 800 cases.
COVID deaths in Pueblo also exceeded any patterns or expectations. In August there were no virus caused deaths; September had just two; October COVID deaths were 13; November and December were a combined 278. “The numbers kept increasing and it was very concerning,” said Joseph.
City-wide curfews have helped stabilize things. Schools are back in session and bars and restaurants are operating but on abridged hours. After the late fall and winter blast of COVID, normalcy in Pueblo has, for the time being, been put on hold. Joseph said anyone in the city or county can get the most up to date information on vaccinations by visiting pueblovaxnow.com. There, she said, you can register for a shot. You can also sign up as a nurse or volunteer. “We can use up to 20 nurses a day,” said the county’s PIO. There is an online form that needs to be completed before showing up. For more information visit Pueblohealth.org.