DARLINGTON, S.C. (WMBF) – The biggest vaccination event to date in the Pee Dee happened Friday at the Darlington Raceway.
According to officials with McLeod Health, Darlington Raceway received a special exemption to move to Phase 1B for the vaccine clinic because doses were still available.
“You can’t underscore the importance of that. Had we not opened up to 1B, we would not have filled up this event,” said Will McLeod, administrator of McLeod Regional Medical Center. “So we were excited that we heard the news that we’d be allowed to have 1B today. I think the excitement that you’re seeing from the 1B is evident, that they’re ready to get vaccinated. It’s one step closer towards getting us back to some normalcy of life.”
Organizers administered over 5,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses, including to staff with Florence School District 1. FSD1 officials say nearly 1,000 employees had signed up to be vaccinated.
Raymond Davis, a South Florence High School teacher who instructs business education, said the process went smoothly and seemed well-organized.
“I was concerned about the fact that we were in-person in classes - live in-person with students and so forth, and not having a vaccination yet, but since everything got moved up, I was excited about it,” Davis said. “So I’m looking forward to continuing the process so we can get back to some semblance of normal living.”
All appointments for Friday’s event were fully booked.
“I’m very fortunate to be able to get it today,” said Shawn Armstrong, the strength coach for South Florence High School, who was able to get the shot.
Hundreds of volunteers worked the clinic, helping guide people from one station to the next.
“We do feel like this is a historical event,” said Emily Adams, vice president of patient services at McLeod Regional Medical Center.
Attendees who had appointments ahead of the event were able to get the vaccine from the comfort of their own car. Hospital leaders say the venue made it possible to offer this kind of “drive-thru” event.
“We have places to put the cars, we have different places to perform our functions,” Adams explained. “There are a lot of steps to the vaccine process, but we’re just rolling people through, getting them taken care of efficiently, and then getting them out.”
A long line twisted and turned around the racetrack grounds throughout the day, but it was speedy - some quoting times of 30 minutes to get through the process. Nurses and nursing students worked to vaccinate 500 people every hour.
The event can feel monumental when contrasting with where the state was one year ago, when the coronavirus pandemic first started to wage war.
“We received our first patient, I believe, on March the 16,” McLeod said. “So we’re right at a year. And to be able to vaccinate this many people - and it’s not just from this region - we’ve talked to people who are coming from the Lowcountry; we’ve talked to people who are coming from the Upstate. So it truly is a state event.”
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster also visited the clinic Friday, along with other lawmakers such as U.S. Rep. Tom Rice and South Carolina House Speaker Jay Lucas.
Those who attended the vaccination clinic Friday will return for their second dose at the raceway on April 1.