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Fresno’s First Drive-Thru COVID Vaccination Site Draws Huge Crowd

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When Rick Lembo arrived at 5:45 a.m. Thursday to set up the drive-thru COVID-19 vaccination site in the parking lot of Sierra Pacific Orthopedics on Spruce Avenue in northeast Fresno, there were already five cars in line.

In only 45 minutes, the line of cars stretched to Cedar Avenue, he said. By mid-morning, it wrapped several miles from Spruce to Millbrook Avenue up to Alluvial Avenue, then to Cedar Avenue and back to Spruce.

A long line of cars stretches down Spruce Avenue Thursday morning near the COVID-19 vaccination site at Sierra Pacific Orthopedics. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)

People 65 and older are waiting two hours or more in long lines to get the first of two shots that will protect them from the coronavirus.

Sierra Pacific Orthopedics has the facilities — a freezer at the main building on the Herndon Avenue frontage road nearby and a spacious parking lot at the Spruce Avenue building — and staff who are eager to help Fresno County accelerate vaccination efforts, said Lembo, director of sports medicine.

“Somebody needed to step up, so we did,” he said.

Ramping Up Vaccine Efforts

The vaccinations began Wednesday morning inside Sierra Pacific’s Herndon campus but then moved to the Spruce Avenue site Wednesday afternoon.

Judy Gross, 84, of Clovis, said she learned from a fellow member of Memorial United Methodist Church about the vaccinations at Sierra Pacific and headed over Wednesday afternoon with Nancy Enloe, 93, of northeast Fresno.

Because Enloe has some difficulty walking, the drive-thru vaccination process “was just perfect for us,” Gross told GV Wire℠ Thursday morning.

The county Public Health Department has opened up a vaccination site at the Fresno County Fairgrounds, but people have to park their cars and walk inside a building to get their shot. Vaccinations at that site are done through advance registration and enrollment, whereas the Sierra Pacific site is first-come, first-served.

Lembo hopes that 1,000 to as many as 1,5000 people are vaccinated daily at the site.

Coronavirus vaccine injection are prepared for drive-thru serving residents 65 and older on Thursday, Jan. 14. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

Prepare for Two Hour Wait

He likened the drive-thru to Disneyland: “You wait two hours in line and then you’re on the ride and get your shot,” he said with a laugh.

The site is a little like Disneyland in another respect, Lembo said. Unlike COVID-19 testing sites, where people have to undergo uncomfortable nasal swabbing and then might get unwelcome news that they tested positive for the coronavirus, the people at the drive-through site are glad to be getting the vaccine at long last, he said. “People are grateful to be in line for two hours.”

Because Gov. Gavin Newsom opened up the eligibility to Californians 65 and older, some who showed up Thursday morning were in the under-75 demographic.

Like Gross, Amy Roberts, 66, and her husband Bruce, 71, heard about the drive-thru vaccinations by word of mouth.

After getting a message from a friend at 6:30 a.m., “we got up, made coffee, and were in line by 7:26 a.m.,” Amy Roberts said. The couple lives in northwest Fresno.

Two residents await their vaccinations. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

Eager for Vaccine

Bruce Roberts said they had already registered for the fairgrounds vaccinations but then were surprised to hear that more vaccinations are being made available, “and we’re taking advantage of it.”

Amy Roberts said they were eager to get the vaccine, and hope others will too. “I’m hoping we can get our country back, and get our personal lives going again,” she said.

James McKelvey, who turns 81 next week, and his wife Diane, 79, had a sobering reason for wanting to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“It’s a big relief,” Diane McKelvey said. “My brother-in-law passed away two weeks ago from COVID.”

James McKelvey said they had registered for the fairgrounds vaccinations and also were told vaccines are coming to San Joaquin Gardens, the retirement community where they live. But they didn’t want to wait and so as soon as they heard in a text from a friend Thursday morning about the drive-thru, they headed over.

Lembo said he expects that Sierra Pacific will provide primary shots through the middle of February and then will have to switch over to the required secondary shots.

The day after her primary shot, Gross said she wasn’t feeling any ill effects as some patients have reported.

“My arm doesn’t even hurt,” she said.

Drivers and passengers stay in their vehicles to register, receive their vaccination, and then wait the required 15 minutes afterward. (GV Wire/Nancy Price)

Nancy Price is a multimedia journalist for GV Wire. A longtime reporter and editor who has worked for newspapers in California, Florida, Alaska, Illinois and Kansas, Nancy joined GV Wire in July 2019. She previously worked as an assistant metro editor for 13 years at The Fresno Bee. Nancy earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Her hobbies include singing with the Fresno Master Chorale and volunteering with Fresno Filmworks. You can reach Nancy at 559-492-4087 or Send an Email