Ulster County offers Kingston High School field house as a state vaccination center

Legislative Gazette photo by Nicolas George

Ulster County has offered to become a joint state-county COVID vaccination distributor after members of the County Legislature sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo on February 26.

“Ulster County stands ready to partner with the state to serve as a vaccine distribution center at the Kate Walton Field House at Kingston High School,” the press release said. 

Members of the County Legislature appealed to Cuomo to make the site a state distributor after several successful weeks of vaccine distribution at the site. They argued that the state would save money by making the Kingston location an official site.

The letter followed Cuomo’s announcement that additional vaccine distribution sites would open in March throughout the state. Some of the locations planning to open sites include, Rochester, Albany, Yonkers and Buffalo.

Local legislators in Ulster County believe Kingston is a central location in New York, being the midway point between New York City and Albany. Additionally, Kingston provides easy access to the public by bus or car, having close proximity to the Thruway and public bus stations.

“We have not just physical capacity, but we have the staffing and the ability to do an estimated 50,000 vaccines a month,” said Tracey Bartels, vice chair of the Ulster County Legislature. “That by itself assumes the ability to be a regional vaccination site.”

As the U.S. surpasses half a million deaths from COVID, the number of vaccine doses that have been administered has reached 82.6 million as of March 4.  In New York, the total doses administered is about 4.7 million. 

The recent release claims a testing center in Kingston could administer twice the predicted 1,000 doses at alternate locations should it be given the go ahead. 

The letter pointed out the difficulties many New Yorkers are having in obtaining a vaccine, especially elderly and those residing in low-income rural areas. As vaccines have been distributed at a number of sites around the state, those who are eligible have been running into problems finding a vaccination “appointment within an hour’s drive.” 

“The nearest site is a significant distance for most Hudson Valley residents to get to,” Bartels said.

According to the New York state website, there are currently 23 vaccination centers open statewide, only a fraction of which have appointments available at any given time.

As the nation approaches the anniversary of the lockdown, another new vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is beginning distribution this month, this one only requiring a single dose. 

The nationwide vaccination effort has kicked into higher gear since Biden took office. In early February, the Biden-Harris administration planned to increase weekly dose distribution to 10.5 million doses, “a 22% increase since taking office on Jan. 20.”

With hopes to distribute 200 million vaccines by April, New York state needs to focus on who gets a dose. As eligibility keeps expanding, many state residents of varying ages are getting their first doses this month, but Bartels said, “it puts additional pressure on the system which is already burdened.”

Despite this, Ulster County promises to prioritize those who might not have easy access to the vaccine. “I know that our county is working hard to reach the more difficult to reach populations, be they seniors or those in our rural population or those who are lower-income without transportation,” Bartels said.

Now as vaccination sites open throughout the state, New York state residents are flocking to the farthest corners of the state to get their first dose. Bartels says Ulster County is ready for the challenge. Bartels is hopeful that the Kingston location will get the go ahead, as their allotment of vaccines has seen an increase during the first week of March.

“It’s no small feat,” Bartels said, “ but the more available and easy we make it, the better outcomes we’ll have.”