ITHACA, N.Y.—Despite the dreary conditions outside, there was an air of optimism at Beverly J. Martin Middle School on Friday, Feb. 19 as the county’s first pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic went off without a hitch.

The clinic briefly looked in question early this week when the state announced that the weekly allotment of vaccinations would not be delivered to municipalities due to inclement weather, but it was held regardless. It catered to several hundred people who met the criteria of being over age 65 with comorbidities or were grocery and public school workers.

Several people interviewed, some of whom did not want to be named, commended the work done by Cayuga Health Systems, the county and the Greater Ithaca Activities Center to organize the event, held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday. GIAC handled outreach for the clinic, which included an effective but hastily assembled effort by GIAC staff to contact people in their network and make sure they could sign up if they were willing.

“The experience was absolutely delightful,” said Joan Spielholz, who received her first shot at the clinic on Friday. Spielholz is in the above 65 age group, but also takes care of her 100 year-old mother, meaning the vaccination took on an even greater importance for her. “It was an exhilarating experience for me (…) I could see some people had terror in their eyes, but I don’t think I saw anybody leave.”

Spielholz said she was given a follow-up appointment for three weeks from now at which she will receive her second shot. She called it a “great relief.”

The plan came together quickly, with the state reaching out on Monday to let local officials know that they wanted to hold a pop-up clinic. Though it was initially slated to take place at the GIAC building, GIAC Executive Director Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, who also serves as Tompkins County Legislature chair, said the space would have been too small to effectively socially distance everyone while they cycled in and out during the vaccination process.

They then turned their attention to the nearby BJM property.

“Included in (the county’s) plan, in terms of vaccine sites for the pandemic, we started looking at things through an equity lens and sites where we could meet people where they’re at,” she said. “GIAC was one of those sites (…) When I got the call, I was at the mall getting my vaccine.”

GIAC staff started a list of people to contact and quickly began filling the available slots. The final person was registered Thursday night, with just 12 hours until the clinic was set to open, McBean-Clairborne said.

“To turn this around in three days was just incredible,” she said. Part of the focus of GIAC’s efforts was outreach to the local Black community, another facet of the pursuit of equitable distribution. The topic of whether marginalized communities would trust the government enough to receive the vaccine has been a frequent topic over the last several months, and McBean-Clairborne said that while they did encounter some skepticism among people they contacted (she even dealt with some of her own), she thought the involvement of GIAC and the location of the clinic were both crucial factors in upping participation.

“Our relationships, at GIAC, with the communities of color is pretty strong,” she said. “So we’re able to reach out to folks, talk to many people within the community of color and the Black community in particular (…) There was trust building. With GIAC being involved, there’s an element of safety. And plus it’s coming into their community, they don’ have to travel to the mall or Syracuse or wherever, it’s coming right here to Beverly J. Martin School.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com