Durham County Public Health Director Rodney Jenkins announced on Monday that the county will open a “mega-site” capable of administering 45,000 COVID-19 vaccines each week, beginning next month.

According to the public health department’s website, the mass vaccination site will operate seven days a week. 

The county is working with state emergency management and public health officials, along with Fidelity Investments, to open the mega-site.

Durham County Commissioners Vice-Chair Wendy Jacobs said she’s thrilled at the prospect of a mega-site to administer the COVID-19 vaccine doses.

“We could get our entire community vaccinated in seven weeks, which would be just a dream,” she said.

There are an estimated 321,000 Durham County residents, and more than 26,000 of them have already received the first dose of a vaccine, according to the state tracker. But both federally-approved vaccines require a second shot administered several weeks later, and just over 7,000 Durham County residents have received that second dose so far.

To Jacobs’s point, if everything ran seamlessly and the planned mega-site ran at full capacity, it would take a little less than seven weeks to give each remaining resident at least the first vaccine dose. But the state’s rollout so far has been anything but seamless, and it’s unclear how many doses would be allocated to Durham County anyway. Despite almost 300,0000 Durham County residents still needing their first shot, the most recent numbers (updated Monday night) show that only 630,774 initial doses have been administered so far across North Carolina. That suggests that a seven-week timeframe, even for just initial doses, is unrealistic.

In the meeting, Jenkins added a grim, cautionary note: it’s only a matter of time before new variants of the virus reach Durham County.

The variants will not render the vaccines less effective, but he said the mutations are so contagious and spreads so fast, it could make a whole lot of people sick.

“If we’re not careful, come March, we might see another surge and this time it will be a whole lot more deadly,” Jenkins said during a virtual Durham County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Jenkins said that since the onset of the pandemic, the county’s public health officials have emphasized the “three W’s”—wear a mask, wash your hands, and wait six feet apart from others.

“But now we’re encouraging the three W’s, plus getting vaccinated,” he told commissioners. “That’s the sure-fire way of beating the variants.”

There are currently 1,255 total active coronavirus cases in Durham County, Jenkins said. Since the pandemic started the county has reported 19,701 cases, with 17,631 now inactive.

“That many individuals have beaten COVID,” he explained.

The county public health director offered condolences to the families of the 180 residents who have died from the virus, but he added that “deaths have leveled off.”

Jenkins also noted that “not much has changed” with the demographic information about infection rates. Members of the Hispanic and Latinx communities are still overrepresented in proportion to their population. African Americans are “slightly overrepresented” and whites are underrepresented.  

Meanwhile, the state’s vaccination tracker shows that 82 percent of initial dose recipients have been white, despite white people making up an estimated 70 percent of North Carolina’s population. 

Jenkins said the seven-day positive COVID test average “was very high” in the weeks after Christmas as a result of holiday travel, but that cases are now trending down.

“However we continue to stay vigilant because of the variants,” said Jenkins, who noted that there are reports that the B.1.1.7. variant that was first identified in the United Kingdom has appeared in Mecklenburg County.

“We are prepared for that because North Carolina is a state that’s well-traveled,” he said.

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com.

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