A look inside the Cuesta College vaccination site: meet the people making it all possible
The COVID-19 vaccination site at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo administers around 1,000 doses every day to county residents.
At least that’s the goal. But Site Manager Kevin Coomer said their record is 1,132.
Coomer said the clinic is surpassing its goal almost daily because of the more than 65 nurses and volunteers who show up ready to work every day.
“We’re here to have a welcoming spirit, and tell them it’s gonna be okay and get them through the program with the least amount of anxiety and fear,” Coomer said.
Coomer said San Luis Obispo County doesn’t have enough medical care employees to provide vaccines this quickly.
So the clinic is supported by traveling nurses from a company called SnapNurse. They come to the county for up to 120 days from places such as Texas, North Carolina, New York and Louisiana.
Coomer said the volunteers and nurses work to keep operations smooth in order to get people in and out within 45 minutes.
“We try to make it as simple and organized as possible,” Coomer said. “If you come in [and] it’s all confusing, you don’t know where to go and it doesn't make sense, your anxiety level goes up. If you come in and you start with the huge sign that we have above the first table that says ‘Vaccine Start Here,’ that’s a start. They know exactly where to go. The anxiety level decreases right from the beginning.”
If you’ve been to the clinic to get your COVID-19 vaccine, you’ve seen how it’s streamlined. Volunteers direct people where to go from the minute they drive up.
The clinic is divided into several areas, including a place for initial paperwork, 14 vaccination stations, and spaces to sit and wait after receiving a shot.
Coomer said one of the traveling nurses who makes the clinic such a great place to be is Kevin Dagene.
Coomer said Dagene’s positive energy is infectious. Dagene said he likes to keep people happy while they move through the clinic.
“When we started today, I literally asked the crowd, ‘Are you ready?’ and they were like ‘Yeah.’ I’m like ‘No, are you ready?’ I mean, it gets the crowd wild,” Dagene said. “You’re pumping up their blood system. They feel excited. And that’s what I want to do. I want to take out that nervousness and that fear.”
Dagene came to San Luis Obispo from Georgia on a temporary contract. He expects to be on the Central Coast until his contract ends in June.
He said he wakes up every morning grateful for a new day and he makes it his mission to bring joy.
“I live by a code now,” Dagene said. “My code is to make smile and love contagious. My thing and my job every day is to wake up and give someone a better day.”
Dagene said he likes to give morning pep talks to his coworkers when they are riding the bus together to the clinic.
He said he likes to connect with the people getting vaccinated and help them relax.
“I ask them how their day is going and — depending on their response and how they’re moving — I start humming a song,” Dagene said. “And the humming comes to singing and the singing comes to dancing. And they’re like ‘Oh I like that song’ or ‘You sound great’ and it takes them out of their comfort zone. So that’s literally what I do every day.”
Many people help keep the site running on a daily basis. Volunteers at the clinic are registered through the San Luis Obispo County Medical Reserve Corps, or MRC.
Bethany Hall is a Cal Poly student studying biomedical engineering. She was helping people at the clinic who needed wheelchair support.
“A lot of what has come with COVID has been really sad and kind of a grieving process,” Hall said. “This is definitely a joyous time of turning a new page and seeing a brighter future, with these vaccines getting distributed.”
Debby Lyon is another volunteer with MRC. She’s a retired dentist and marriage and family therapist, and has spent time at several clinics throughout the county.
Lyon helps keep the lines moving and acts as a translator for Spanish speakers who show up to get vaccinated.
“Anything you can do to help with the pandemic,” Lyon said. “People feel so helpless being at home or isolated and it’s like, ‘What can I do?’ and this is something that anybody can do.”
Central Coast local Ben Bellizzi volunteers at the clinic about once a week. He said he loves seeing the vaccination progress each day he’s there.
“Stepping back and looking at the big picture, it’s nice to have a really small part in this massive movement, which everybody wants,” Bellizzi said. “We all want to get done with this thing. You’re sharing this call to morality.”
To sign up to be a volunteer, you can visit the Medical Reserve Corps website.
The County of San Luis Obispo has three vaccination clinics: in Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo.
However, County Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein said Wednesday the mass clinics will be closing within weeks, and beginning May 10 will only be open two days a week.
As of April 30, nearly 148,000 doses had been administered to county residents. More than 64,000 people had been fully vaccinated.
County residents age 16 and older can schedule vaccine appointments online at recoverslo.org, and walk-ins are welcome at the Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande clinics.