On Thursday, Feb. 4, Collin County’s partnership with Curative Medical Associates to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to those on the county’s waitlist went horribly wrong. At the COVID-19 vaccine site at John Clark Stadium in Plano, individuals waited in line for a vaccine. But suddenly, staff told them to leave late that afternoon, and that they couldn’t get a vaccine that day. Those turned away quickly took to social media to express their frustrations, which reached the Collin County commissioners.
Social media informed the commissioners before Curative about the vaccine site closing early. Collin County Judge Chris Hill did not take that news lightly. He made frustrated comments at a commissioner’s special meeting on Friday, Feb. 5 held in response to the blunder.
The turmoil ultimately led to county commissioners making a major decision at their regular meeting on Feb. 8 — to temporarily suspend new signups on the waitlist. They made the decision hoping to prevent further backup of the system.
The next day, Feb. 9, CCHCS announced that the county, City of McKinney and Texas Health Resources have been scheduling appointments from the waitlist, and registration numbers were up to 61,903. As of Thursday, Feb. 11 the waitlist has 275,056 signed up, according to Collin County Health Care Services’ website.
CCHCS also announced that vaccination appointments for Thursday at the stadium are also being rescheduled “due to expected severe winter weather.”
But let’s dive into how Collin County got here in the first place.
The Vaccine Mega Centers
On Jan. 5, Collin County announced the launch of its vaccine waitlist for residents who met the Texas Department of Health State Services’ 1A, health care workers and residents in long-term care facilities, and 1B, those over 65 and those 16 or older with chronic medical conditions, categories.
But the county’s process of deciding which locations would be turned into vaccine mega-centers, along with which cities and local entities would be using the county’s waitlist, has been nothing short of confusing.
The Collin County Commissioners Court unanimously voted during its Jan. 11 meeting to contract with Curative for the vaccine mega-site centers and mobile clinics, according to a CCHCS press release.
In late January, the City of McKinney opened the McKinney ISD football stadium as its mega-site. CCHCS announced plans to use the John Clark Stadium for its mega-site, according to a Jan. 21 CCHCS press release.
CCHCS also wrote in the press release that the City of Allen was using the Allen ISD football stadium for its mega-vaccination site, and Baylor Scott & White Health was using one of its facilities — The Star — in Frisco. However, Plano and McKinney were, at the time, the only ones using the county’s waitlist.
Texas Health Resources began operating its COVID-19 vaccine site at the Sam Johnson Recreation Center in Plano. They became the third entity to use the county’s waitlist. Baylor Scott & White Health said they would also begin using the county’s waitlist, according to a Jan. 29 CCHCS press release.
In the initial Jan. 29 release, CCHCS said the City of Frisco would be the fifth entity to use the county’s waitlist as well. But a week later, they updated the release, announcing that Frisco decided against using the waitlist. Instead, Frisco is developing its “own vaccine registration process.” Frisco’s COVID-19 vaccine site is operating out of the Stonebriar Centre in Frisco, according to the City of Frisco’s website.
The COVID-19 Vaccine Site Blunder
To be clear, CCHCS’ John Clark Stadium vaccination site should operate until 5 p.m. due to daylight constraints. During the special meeting, Miranda Gottlieb, vice president of marketing for Curative, said that around 4:10 p.m. on Thursday, they decided to cut off the line. But, she assured commissioners that staff still vaccinated people until 5 p.m.
However, Hill didn’t think that her side of the story added up.
During the meeting, Hill said that he went to the COVID-19 vaccine site that day. He arrived “before dark,” and reported “no cars in line,” and no one receiving vaccines. He also said that when he called Curative’s team to tell them he intended to stop by to figure out what happened, their answer didn’t make sense.
“They told me, ‘Well, we’ll wait here for you until you get here,’” Hill recalled during the meeting. “I said, ‘What do you mean you’ll wait here? Obviously, you’re there vaccinating. Why do you have to wait on me?’ And [they said], ‘Well, we’re done vaccinating, but we’re going to go ahead and wait for you to get here.’”
But no matter whose story is most accurate, the end result is the same. Some people waited in line for vaccines that afternoon; yet the staff turned an unknown number of people away prematurely — sometime before 5 p.m.
During the special meeting, Gottlieb said multiple factors went into the staff’s decision to cut the line early. For one, she reported that the line was not just people who were on the waitlist and arrived at their scheduled appointment time. Others also arrived hoping for a vaccine, even though they weren’t on the waitlist. Additionally, some arrived who were on the waitlist, but did not have a scheduled appointment time. Others simply came at the wrong time.
According to Gottlieb, staff grew concerned as traffic formed “in an area that is not particularly well-suited to have backup of traffic.” They made their decision based on the number of vaccines available and daylight hours left.
Gottlieb also reported that the staff was unsure whether they should vaccinate those who showed up without an appointment, particularly when there weren’t many people waiting in line.
The staff experienced “some difficulties in the uploading of appointments,” Gottlieb said in reference to the software used to show patient information. And, to be fair, Collin County is not the only county that has been dealing with software issues in its vaccination process.
NBC DFW reported Jan. 13 that people in Dallas County used the appointment link they received and then sent it to friends and family. As a result, the system and, ultimately, the lines became clogged as people registered with the shared link even if they were not eligible for a vaccine.
And, later on in the special meeting after Gottlieb discussed the success of Curative’s other vaccination locations across the country. County Commissioner Susan Fletcher asked why they had problems at the Plano COVID-19 vaccine site and weren’t having problems at their other sites, revealing another potential reason for staff confusion — the waitlist.
“That’s the real difference between this location and every other that we run across the country,” Gottlieb said. “That’s a really different experience for this site than any of the others, where we have a first-come, first-serve model for the particular group of individuals.”
At the special meeting, Hill said that the commissioners shouldn’t have to find out about problems through social media. “That’s not acceptable to us: to find out through social media channels about decisions that were made, operational decisions made on-site that impact us and our citizens,” Hill told Gottlieb during the meeting. “When those decisions are made, we need to be a part of that.”
But Gottlieb said after the mishap, her team met with a few county officials. They needed to figure out how to have “streamlined communication with site managers and leaders to be able to address problems and to discuss proposed solutions earlier on.” She assured Hill that the situation would not happen again. Additionally, she promised to keep county commissioners informed long before social media does.
But Hill wasn’t having it.
“It’s not just adequate, in my point of view, that you let us know about those types of operational decisions,” Hill said. “Those types of operational decisions–to shut down and dismiss everybody who’s in the line–need to be made by the county. Moving forward, I don’t want you to do a better job of telling us when you shut the line down. And when you dismiss people, I want those decisions to be made by my team.”
Despite Hill’s frustration, throughout meetings after the COVID-19 vaccine site disaster, Curative’s team and county officials were able to understand what to do with those who show up during low-traffic hours who don’t have a scheduled appointment.
“Now, we have very clear coordination and consensus between our teams that… we are only servicing and offering vaccinations to folks who arrive at their designated time, window and date,” Gottlieb said. “Even if we’re not backed up or otherwise, because a couple of people, you know, come at the wrong time, and it throws off the whole cadence of the day.”
Further, Gottlieb said Curative’s new scheduling software, made in response to the incident, will help people specify their appointment times. It will also upload information ahead of time. The software went live on Monday, Feb. 8.
Bill Bilyeu, Collin County administrator, said during the county commissioner’s regular meeting on Feb. 8 that anyone turned away on Feb. 4 has been told to come back Monday on a will-call basis.
On Friday, the county brought lights for the COVID-19 vaccine site. They also borrowed lights from the City of Allen so Curative’s staff could continue vaccinating after dark. Bilyeu said that the staff stayed until “they had every vaccine out,” which was about 7 p.m.
“I think that with firm scheduling now and [the fact that] Curative will start turning people away to come back at their scheduled time instead of the same day — that is going to help with their performance greatly,” Bilyeu said.
The Waitlist Suspension
Things are now running much more smoothly at the John Clark Stadium COVID-19 vaccine site. However, county commissioners suspended waitlist signups in order to mitigate any more large-scale problems from backup. They hope this move will help people get vaccines in a timely manner.
“To continue to put people on a list knowing full well that we’re not going to have adequate vaccine for the foreseeable future, you know, I think is a bit of a disservice,” Collin County Commissioner Cheryl Williams said at the regular meeting Feb. 8. “Folks are going to have to look in other places in order to try and get their vaccine in a reasonable time period.”
Collin County Commissioner Darrell Hale also suggested they wait until the waitlist gets down to around 50,000 before resuming signups. By that point, they “will have filtered through a lot of people that got it elsewhere, as well as our own internal.”
According to a press release from CCHCS on Feb. 3, CCHCS received 9,750 vaccine doses for the week of Feb. 1, McKinney received 7,800 doses and Texas Health Resources provided 3,300 vaccine appointments from the county’s waitlist. They haven’t yet announced how many they received for the week of Feb. 8.
However, Bilyeu said at the meeting that Collin County as a whole received 42,000 vaccine doses last week. CCHCS received 9,750 and McKinney got 7,700. The other doses were distributed among the other cities and facilities that are not working off of the waitlist. He did not mention the amount of doses received by Texas Health Resources and Baylor Scott & White Health, which are also supposed to be working off of the waitlist, according to CCHCS’ most recent update on who is using the waitlist on Jan. 29.
“Even with the amount of vaccine dropping, even if we got it doubled, and we got 20,000 a week across the county, you know, we’re still looking at three months at the earliest to be able to hit most of the people on the waitlist,” Hale said.