DeSantis adding vaccines to busy Hard Rock COVID testing site

Mario Ariza, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Gov. Ron DeSantis visited the the Miami Hard Rock Stadium Wednesday to announce the opening of Florida’s first drive-through coronavirus vaccination site.

The site, which is the first in a broader plan to offer drive-through vaccinations to Floridians, marks a new phase in the states’ attempts to inoculate the population against the virus.

“We’re going to be expanding it, and do a minimum, supply willing, of about one thousand shots a day,” DeSantis said of the site, which offers two lanes for vaccinations and will be open to members of the general public 65 or older by appointment on Friday.

A line of cars snaked around the testing complex as he spoke, evidence of a post-holiday surge in virus cases. On Wednesday, Florida reported over 17,000 new coronavirus cases, its highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic.

Statewide, 289,773 people have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, according to the Department of Health, about 23% of the more than 1.1 million doses the state has received.

Frustrated people have endured long lines blocking traffic and elderly citizens waiting overnight in freezing temperatures at facilities operating under first-come, first-served policies. And for places requiring appointments, thousands of citizens have endured websites crashing and jammed phone lines as they tried to schedule a time.

DeSantis has attempted to address those issues by converting state-run sites for testing, like the one at the Hard Rock Stadium, into vaccination locations; adding staffers to vaccination sites; and directing the Division of Emergency Management to identify churches to distribute the vaccine to help speed up the inoculations.

But the governor also cautioned that in a state with 4.4 million residents over age 65, demand will remain high and outstrip supply in the near future, so he urged patience as new doses trickle in to the state.

On Wednesday, a senior DeSantis administration official who did not wish to be identified said that the state was attempting to set up a registration website for all Floridians that would be capable of handling the demand for vaccinations “as soon as possible.”

“What we are already quietly doing right now is the states chief information officer is working with companies to ramp up the systems,” the official said, “make them more scalable and robust, move them to the cloud. We’re going to have a new web address online for signups. It’s evolving.”

At Wednesday’s news conference at the Hard Rock Stadium COVID testing site in Miami on Wednesday, DeSantis was asked why — if the state had 10 months to prepare for vaccine distribution — it was only just now constructing a state-wide website to allow Floridians to sign up for inoculations.

“First of all, it’s not all through the state,” DeSantis said. “For us to direct every dose that goes to hospitals and all that? It would be a total Charlie Foxtrot. It would not work well, let me tell you.”

The state currently tracks vaccine allocations to hospitals, pharmacies, and other distribution sites across the state. DeSantis has repeatedly warned that under-performing vaccination sites will not be provided with additional doses of the live-saving serum.

“Having one centralized thing would not have been effective,” the governor added, saying that the state is indeed constructing a centralized website where Floridians will be able to sign up for state vaccinations. “If you want to get a shot at Jackson, you go make your appointment at Jackson,” he said.

Earlier in the day, at another news conference held at the Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, where DeSantis announced a new initiative aimed at rolling the vaccine out to seniors through houses of worship, DeSantis shrugged off a report in the Washington Post that at least one South Florida nursing home was letting its vaccine supply go not to just residents and staff but also to wealthy donors.

“I’m not sure about that,” DeSantis said citing that in general, “my understanding is that they’re administering that to their residents, which is appropriate to do.”

The virus spread continues to grow to similar heights seen over the summer. The state reported on Wednesday another 17,700 more positive COVID-19 cases. The state has not reported fewer than 10,000 new daily cases since Dec. 28.

Orlando Sentinel staff writers Richard Tribou and Gray Rohrer contributed to this report.