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County unveils drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site at fairgrounds, awaits more doses before its launch

On Tuesday, the Kern County Public Health Services Department unveiled what will become a major part of its mass vaccination plan: its drive-thru facility at the Kern County Fairgrounds.

Nearly three weeks old, the fairgrounds site was implemented as a centralized location to get Bakersfield and the county vaccinated. The latest piece to that puzzle is the drive-thru amenity which, when fully running, should be able to accommodate about 3,500 Kern residents per day looking to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

But the project won’t officially be operational until the county starts to get a lot more vaccine doses.

The finishing touches for the project were put on about a week ago, according to Tom Beckett, technology services manager for with Kern County Public Health Services Department.

“Everything you see is new: it’s newly paved, it’s newly striped,” he said. “We have all of our vaccination stations set up and ready to go, all in preparation for when there’s enough vaccine to push this site to the goal of 5,000 a day. This is a big component of how that is going to happen.”

Currently, the dusty northeast parking lot at the fairgrounds has been transformed into what looks like a track. There are 14 wide lanes for traffic divided by white lines on fresh asphalt.

Patients will be guided through a lane where they are waved on to do their paperwork at one station, get their shot at another and then wait in an observation area — either for 15 or 30 minutes, depending on their medical history. There will be paramedics on standby.

“The process works exactly the same as the indoor (site), but it’s just larger scale and designed for vehicle traffic instead of walking traffic,” Beckett said.

On Tuesday, there were some signs of what the drive-thru project would one day become. There are tents and tables for some of the stations. There are also barriers that preserve distance between the cars in case there’s a stalled car or an emergency responder needed to get through.

Beckett said when the site is operational, there will also be hand-washing stations and places for nurses to put on and take off their PPE.

The county has been getting a slight increase in vaccines every week, but it is still not close to getting the numbers where it makes sense to open the drive-thru.

“When we do institute the drive-thru piece, it is a significant increase in the staffing and cost,” Beckett said. “We will activate the drive-thru when the capacity warrants it.”

The last two weeks, the county administered about 500 doses a day at the fairgrounds, which is open four days a week. This week it expects to administer about 600 doses a day.

The dose numbers at the current rate have been low enough that much of the county’s current walk-up vaccination operations have been moved indoors at Building 3. That’s because of the recent cold and rainy weather, according to spokeswoman Michelle Corson. The building was originally where patients sat while they were monitored for any adverse reactions, but now they will have their paperwork reviewed and vaccines administered indoors as well.

When the fairgrounds site is at full capacity, the walk-up section of the site will be able to administer 1,500 vaccines a day, seven days a week.

“We are ready to expand; we just need more vaccine,” Corson said. “So we’re advocating for more vaccine from the state.”