Drive-thru vaccine

Cars in the first drive-up COVID-19 vaccine clinic in the Benedict Music Tent in Aspen on Jan. 14. Since then, the operation has expanded to eight lanes, when on Friday officials administered 1,380 shots in a single day.

Spirits were high despite traffic being slow in Aspen Friday, both for the same reason: the 1,380 vaccines that were administered at the drive-thru clinic at the Benedict Music Tent.

Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock was able to see the operation firsthand for the first time Friday, an experience he called “amazing.”

“We had our biggest single day — big deal. We did cause some traffic, so we’re getting a better sense with volumes and how many we can do an hour,” he said.

At 4:09 p.m. Friday, Pitkin County Alert sent out an explanation for the backlog: “Traffic impacts due to the COVID vaccine clinic in the west end of Aspen. Please be patient and avoid the area unless you have an appointment. All appointments will be honored beyond scheduled closing time. Those without appointments will not be permitted inside the clinic.”

Indeed, at about 5 p.m. Friday, Peacock estimated that the vaccinations would be finished in another hour.

“We’re going to have some tired people out there,” Peacock beamed of the team that oversaw the vaccinations. “We made huge, huge progress, and anyone who is available and 70+ who wanted a vaccine, we got through that population. We made huge progress with our schools and early learning childhood, and we are able to start vaccinating our 65-and-older crowd.”

Aspen School District Superintendent David Baugh’s enthusiasm was similarly palpable Friday evening.

“We are so thankful to the incredible number of volunteers and expertise of the Pitkin County Incident Management Team and Pitkin County Health for getting shots into the arms of every educator in Pitkin County who wanted a shot — incredibly thankful,” Baugh said. “I am 100% behind the vaccinations; it’s the right to do.”

Roughly 700 educators across Pitkin County, including from Aspen Country Day School, the Aspen Community School and Early Learning Center, received their first shots.

“Bus drivers, substitute teachers, facilities managers, you name it — they all had the ­opportunity to get vaccinated today. This was a landmark today for Pitkin County education,” Baugh said.

Peacock doesn’t anticipate the county receiving another allotment of vaccines next week, and for once, he’s fine with that.

“That’s probably fair at this point,” he said.

But once more vaccines do arrive, “we’ll be doing our next round of prioritizations.” And, Peacock continued, Friday served as an effective learning opportunity so that the county will be even more ready in the future.

“We’re excited. It was a really big day out there. We’ve learned about what our through-put is on the eight lane, so we’ll be better prepared for that next time we get a big slug of vaccines,” he said.

While the arrival of vaccines certainly created an undercurrent of optimism in the community, it’s still imperative that people continue abiding by public health guidelines, officials reminded. Carbondale Town Trustee Lani Kitching, who is working with the valleywide “United to Stop the Spread” campaign and has volunteered with Roaring Fork Neurology’s free COVID-19 testing sites, said Friday that she’s noticed a decline in the number of people seeking testing lately.

“The vaccine is certainly a game-changer, but there's still value in screening for contacts to help our public health officials track any new virus entries into our communities as well as to keep ourselves better protected from a potentially more contagious strain,” she said.

Megan Tackett is the editor for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at megan@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @MeganTackett10.