2021 | Coronavirus

County trying to strengthen case to host state COVID-19 mass vaccination site

Officials preparing at least one site to include in its proposal

Todd Laubach, an emergency room nurse for Adventist HealthCare in Montgomery County, was one of the health care system's first employees to receive the vaccine in late December.

Photo from Adventist HealthCare

Montgomery County health officials are continuing to press for the state for a local COVID-19 mass vaccination center by preparing at least one site with the needed infrastructure and planning.

The county has proposed at least three locations as potential mass vaccination sites to the state health department, including the fairgrounds in Gaithersburg.

Asked what the other two sites are, Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the county’s health department, wrote in a text message that the county is “looking at a few, but the fairgrounds is all I can tell you about at this time.”

Dr. Jinlene Chan, the acting deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, told the Montgomery County delegation on Friday that the state can discuss a mass vaccination site with the county. But the state is concentrating on making sure there is enough of a geographic spread for the doses, as well as enough doses for the current and planned sites, she said.

Six Flags America in Prince George’s County already had the infrastructure to be a mass vaccination site, she said.

During a media briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said the county disagrees with the state’s stance that Six Flags is sufficient to serve both counties.

“We’re actually working with some potential locations in the county,” he said, “to get all of the basics of having power. … where we would put restrooms and what the flow would be, so we can give those strategies to the state and say, ‘Hey, we’ve done some of the legwork for you. We think this site is a very good one for doing “X” amount of vaccine and we’re very happy to help support such an effort.’

“We continue to advocate to the state that we do have a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County that we believe could serve not just Montgomery County, but our neighbors to the north in Carroll and Frederick, and Howard [County]could also take advantage of a north county site in Montgomery County, as well.”

County Executive Marc Elrich said during the briefing that the county has a location identified that a property owner said the county could use for a mass vaccination site. He did not identify the site. It was not clear if he was referring to the fairgrounds.

“We’re ready for it if [state health officials] want to provide it to us,” he said. “Prince George’s County has a mass vaccination site and I think almost half of the people they’ve vaccinated over there last time are actually Montgomery County residents.”

The state’s dose allocations from the federal government – the additional dose supplies should be used for mass vaccination sites rather than taking them from county health departments, he said, referring to several decreases in shipments in the last few weeks.

During a meeting on Friday, members of the Montgomery County delegation argued that the county, which is the largest in the state, should be included in the jurisdictions where mass vaccination sites are being set up.

Two state sites are currently open — at Six Flags America in Prince George’s County and at the Baltimore Convention Center.

The state is also working on a plan to open four other mass vaccination sites, including M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The stadium site will open in mid-February.

Other locations in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore are being finalized.

During the meeting, Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda), the chair of the Montgomery County House Delegation, said Chan’s response was “very different” than what Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader told the Senate vaccine work group.

Schrader said “no way, no how” to the notion of a site in the county, Korman said, because the county’s residents can go to Six Flags. Korman called that an “absurd answer.”

“If a lot of people from Montgomery County are going to Six Flags, that reinforces the need for a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County,” he said.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.