CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Final preparations are complete and Bank of America Stadium is now North Carolina's largest COVID-19 vaccine clinic, with thousands of people expected to get their first shot this weekend.
Atrium Health said they expect to vaccinate around 19,000 people over three days, just one week after approximately 16,000 people were vaccinated at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"We are really in a race against COVID," Professor of Emergency Medicine, Atrium Health Chief of Disaster Medicine David Callaway said. "COVID is mutating the new version is more contagious, the next mutation could be more deadly we don't know."
The clinic opens one day after South Carolina officials announced the first two known cases of the South African COVID-19 variant were detected there. Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris said she's confident that variant is also in the Charlotte area, it just hasn't been detected yet.
"Routine testing for COVID-19 does not screen for the different strains of the virus," Harris said. "We know we have the B.1.17 variant in our community and we know that the African variant has been identified in South Carolina. The identification of cases and the treatment they may need will not differ based on the strain of the virus. We are not testing or screening for these variant strains. We can assume that they are present in our community."
Appointments for the mass clinic quickly booked up with health care workers and adults age 65 and older being eligible. The clinic will offer drive-thru and walk-in stations for vaccines.
Friday evening, Atrium Health tweeted that "due to increased efficiency," they have new open spots for this weekend’s mass vaccination at Bank of America for those who qualify.
"Just tears of relief," Rochelle Wilensky said.
She's not a front-line health care worker who cares for patients with COVID-19 or over 65, but because Wilensky is a home caregiver to her daughter, she falls into Group 1 and is eligible for the vaccine. Her 4-year-old has a rare disease that makes her at-risk for the coronavirus.
"Just this relief that even though she can't get vaccinated yet, there's one extra layer of protection around her," Welinsky said. "It's a godsend for those of us who have been living like this. A lot of stress for this long."
According to organizers of the event, Friday was successful.
On Friday, they vaccinated roughly 2,400 people. 80% of people walked up to get their shot, 20% drove up.
“This is exactly the kind of way that Bank of America Stadium should be used for the benefit of our community," Tepper Sports & Entertainment President Tom Glick said.
Organizers say most people were in the out of the stadium in 25 minutes, including observation time.
This comes as North Carolina reports administering 99% of it's first doses of COVID-19 vaccine on January 27th. The CDC ranking the state 6th in the nation for total doses given.
"We want to be as safe as we can and this vaccine is a really important step towards that," Stacy Staggs said.
Staggs and her husband will get the vaccine at Bank of America Stadium Saturday. She falls under group 1, like Welinsky. She takes care of her 7-year-old twin daughters Emma and Sara Bean. They have a wide range of medical conditions.
"They were born incredibly early at 28 weeks and spent months in the nicu," Staggs said.
But Staggs and several other caregivers reached out to WCNC Charlotte saying they had a difficult time making an appointment with Atrium Health.
WCNC Charlotte's Lexi Wilson asked Atrium Health officials about people being turned away.
"I'm not aware of anyone eligible who was turned away, so would like to know the details around that, but that has been updated to our criteria and if you meet the criteria with the state then we are administering and scheduling you for your vaccines," executive vice president and chief physician executive for Atrium Health, Scott Rissmiller said.
Rissmiller says the state made this change about a week or so ago.
The weekend is fully booked, it's by appointment only, those with appointments are asked to arrive no more than 15 minutes ahead of their appointment time.
Also, to dress warm, there are heaters but it's going to be a cold weekend.