California is transforming Disneyland into a mass vaccine distribution site as the coronavirus surge overwhelms hospitals and sets a deadly new record in the state.
Orange county officials said that the Disneyland resort, located in Anaheim, would become the first of five “super point-of-dispensing” (super POD) locations with a capacity to vaccinate thousands of people every day.
Doug Chaffee, the Orange county supervisor, said in a statement that super POD sites will be “absolutely critical in stopping this deadly virus”.
The move comes as California’s Covid-19 death toll reached 30,000 on Monday, a startling figure that underscored the virus’ vast acceleration this winter. It took six months for the nation’s most populous state to reach 10,000 deaths but barely a month to jump from 20,000 to 30,000 deaths.
The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, and public health officials are counting on widespread vaccinations to bring new infections under control, starting with medical workers and the most vulnerable elderly, such as those in care homes.
Newsom acknowledged the rollout of vaccines has been too slow and he pledged 1m shots will be administered this week, more than twice what’s been done so far.
Alongside Disneyland, the state is also planning to transform baseball stadiums and fairgrounds into vaccination hubs – including Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, Petco Park in San Diego and the CalExpo fairgrounds in Sacramento. In the Bay Area, the Oakland Coliseum and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara are also being considered as mass vaccination sites.
That effort will require what Newsom called an “all-hands-on-deck approach”, including having vaccinations dispensed by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, dentists, paramedics and emergency medical technicians, and members of the California National Guard.
Cars lined up early Monday near the downtown stadium in San Diego, where officials aimed to inoculate 5,000 health care workers daily.
“It’s kind of like a Disneyland ride” with cars moving through, said Heather Buschman, spokeswoman for UC San Diego Health, whose medical staff was administering the shots.
She said people seemed eager to be vaccinated, with more than 12,500 health care workers in San Diego county initially scheduling appointments.
Los Angeles county has emerged as the center of the winter surge, accounting for some 40% of the state’s virus-related deaths. On Monday, nearly 8,000 people were hospitalized in Los Angeles county, which had fewer than 50 intensive care units available in an area with a population of 10 million people, said Dr Christina Ghaly, county director of Health Services.
Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles director of public health, said they predicted an increase in cases following the New Year’s holiday, and that Covid-19 is still killing someone in the county every eight minutes, on average.
Lawmakers also continued to plead with people to keep social distancing to slow the spread of infection. In Los Angeles county, residents were being urged to wear masks even when at home if they go outside regularly and live with someone elderly or otherwise at high risk.
“Dying from Covid in the hospital means dying alone,” said Hilda Solis, county board of supervisors chair. “Visitors are not allowed into hospitals for their own safety. Families are sharing their final goodbyes on tablets and mobile phones.“
“One of the more heartbreaking conversations that our health care workers share is about these last words when children apologize to their parents and grandparents for bringing Covid into their homes, for getting them sick,” Solis said. “And these apologies are just some of the last words that loved ones will ever hear.”