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The empty Macy’s store at Military Circle Mall in Norfolk was full again Wednesday afternoon, but there was only one product in stock.
The former department store was used as a clinic to administer COVID-19 vaccines to Norfolk Public School employees and other people in Phase 1b of the state’s vaccine rollout plan.
The three-day vaccination event started Monday and includes all division staff, not just teachers, said division spokeswoman Kenita Matthews. Vaccinations were also occurring Wednesday in Newport News.
“We sent out a survey to all NPS employees on January 14 announcing that the vaccine would be available,” she wrote in an email. “Anyone who selected yes to receive the vaccine was then contacted directly by the Virginia Department of Health to schedule their appointment.”
Recipients entered the building, got hand sanitizer, had their temperatures taken and answered a series of questions.
Medical professionals sat in the area to help and answer questions while patients waited for 15 to 30 minutes to get their shots.
They will get an email with their next scheduled appointment in the future.
Erin Fundora, an art teacher at Norview Middle School, got her first dose Wednesday.
She hasn’t seen students in person for almost a year. She said she wanted to be part of protecting the community and getting the schools back open.
“This can hopefully expedite that process a little bit,” said Fundora, who talked to her sister — a nurse — and her doctor before deciding to get the vaccine. She will get her second dose March 3.
The pandemic has made it difficult for her to connect with students, she said.
“We’ve been sort of restricted to just drawing and art history,” she said in the Military Circle Parking lot after getting her shot. “It has been a challenge, and just trying to build relationships over a camera is really difficult.”
It doesn’t feel like a true connection, she said.
“We miss them,” Fundora said.
She said the event was very organized.
“We walked right in and had our shot within 20 minutes,” she said. “We had to wait for 15 minutes after.”
Gov. Ralph Northam stopped by to speak with vaccine recipients and volunteers at the Norfolk clinic and a temporary version at Christopher Newport University in Newport News.
After making his rounds, he held a brief news conference and gave updates on where the commonwealth stands with vaccinations.
Virginia is 10th in the nation in terms of the percentage of the population that has been vaccinated (8.7 percent), according to a spokeswoman from Northam’s team. That shows a big improvement from last month.
The state also is ninth in the number of doses done per day, and 12th in terms of the supply use, his spokeswoman said
Northam said Virginia’s positivity rate has dropped significantly, and his administration has made adjustments over the past few weeks to get here.
“No. 1, we set goals,” he said during the conference. “Our first goal was to get 25,000 doses a day. As you know now, we’re close to 40,000, on average, doses a day.”
Northam said the state is getting about 120,000 doses a week. In order to vaccinate the entire population by summertime, about 350,000 a week are needed. He also said that while returning to schools is his goal, it needs to be done safely. It has to start with the community following current guidelines, such as wearing masks, he said.
“This is a reason that I have made teachers a top priority in 1b,” Northam said. “We want them to be vaccinated.”
He said to make sure there are enough staff members in schools, he is using money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security Act.
“We’re investing a lot of that into K-12,” Northam said. “Our teachers, if we get what we want through this legislative session, our teachers are going to get a raise.”
He also said there is money in the budget to put more counselors in schools.
“The resources are there, and now we just want to make sure to move forward safely and responsibly,” he said. “That’s a big reason why we’re having a site like we are today, to make sure that our educators and the staff that works at the schools are being vaccinated.”
Registering to receive the vaccine has proven a difficult task for many. To make things smoother, some districts have begun using PrepMod, a vaccine management scheduling tool.
Norfolk and Virginia Beach already are on board, said Dr. Demetria Lindsay, health director for both cities.
“We are using PrepMod here,” she said at the clinic Wednesday. “We started this week.”
When asked when PrepMod will be available for all localities, Northam said to expect an announcement in the next few days.
There’s also a call center in the works that will be staffed by representatives who can schedule vaccination appointments.
“When you need help, it’s nice to get a voice, so we’re working with some private groups to hire about 1,000-plus people that will work in a call center,” he said.
At Christopher Newport, workers and school staff from Newport News and York County were vaccinated Wednesday. The clinic aims to inoculate 1,800 to 2,000 people a day, and the focus has been on 1a and 1b essential workers.
”We want to make sure that we’re equitable. Certainly, sites like this are good, but we’re also working to get into lesser-served communities,” Northam said at his visit to the Newport News clinic. “We have mobile units that will be going into neighborhoods, and our goal is to have everybody vaccinated in Virginia and I think we’ll be able to accomplish that.”
The mobile units will be run by the state. Northam said some of the vehicles the Department of Motor Vehicles uses to operate mobile DMV service centers will be used.
Donna Galganski-Pabst, from York County Fire and Life Safety, was volunteering as a vaccinator Wednesday afternoon.
After helping to calm someone near tears from nerves over the vaccine, she took a moment to speak with a Daily Press reporter.
She said some people are nervous when they come to her table — they don’t like needles or perhaps they’re apprehensive about receiving a new vaccine.
She calms them and tries to distract them after asking the standard health and safety questions. She talks to people while she sticks them with the needle and said that for most, it’s over before they even realize it.
”I’ve been doing EMS for 40 years and it’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been a part of,” she said. “People are so appreciative to be able to get the vaccine — they’ve waited, they didn’t think they’d be able to get it and they’re very, very thankful for it.”
She knows what the waiting game feels like — she’s been trying to get her 75-year-old husband the vaccination. She said she’s put his name on several lists, but doesn’t know when his turn will come.
She wears three masks and takes precautions because she doesn’t want to bring COVID home to him, but said they both decided that she had to volunteer.
”It’s just who we are. When you’re a public servant and you know you have to practice what you preach — you have to live what you tell other people to do,” Galganski-Pabst said. “We’re all hands on deck, and there’s still not enough of us.”
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