Yolanda Negrón was barely leaving her house throughout the pandemic out of concern for preexisting conditions that might put her at a higher risk of severe complications from the coronavirus.
Despite her best efforts, she tested positive for COVID-19 in November.
“And now post-COVID, I have been having memory issues, feeling anxiety, waking up at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning not being able to sleep. My hair started falling out,” she said. “Having gone through COVID, I don’t want to go through it again.”
That’s what motivated Negrón to travel a half hour from her home in Willimantic Monday to Foxwoods Resort Casino, where Hartford HealthCare has partnered with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation to open a new mega vaccine clinic.
The location will serve as an access point to the broader southeastern region of the state.
“I know people who have been hospitalized and have spent months on ventilators and everything,” said Negrón shortly after receiving her first dose of a vaccine, “and let me tell you, this is a lot better than any of that.”
The site at Foxwoods is among seven Hartford HealthCare mega clinics across the state. Community Health Center Inc., Yale New Haven Health and cities operate other mass vaccination locations.
Hartford HealthCare officials say opening more of these sites serves two purposes: creating additional access points to vaccines across a wider geographical area, and vaccinating large quantities of people at once.
Donna Handley, east region president at Hartford HealthCare, said about 1,000 doses were administered to teachers and school staff Sunday on the first day of the Foxwoods clinic, but she added that the site is actually capable of doing up to 5,000 vaccinations in a single day.
“It really is a limitation of how many vaccine doses we get on any given day or week,” Handley said. “As soon as we know our vaccine allotment, we open up appointments and in seconds and minutes, every appointment is taken.”
Health officials said they expect to administer whichever brand of vaccine they have in supply at the mega site. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized three so far: the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which require two doses, and Johnson & Johnson, which is a single shot.
Dr. Setu Vora is chief medical officer of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, which owns and operates Foxwoods.
“Our main focus has been now to build up the community immunity,” he said, “and how we do that at [Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation] locally and in communities surrounding us has been our main mission in these last few months and going forward.”
The sovereign nation includes about 1,400 people, including household members. Native residents can get vaccines at a health center and pharmacy within the reservation, but Vora said they could also get them at sites like Foxwoods if they’re age-eligible under state guidelines.
Connecticut workers and residents 55 years and older are eligible to make vaccine appointments through the state’s Vaccine Administration Management System or through individual health organizations.
Kenneth Wilbur was among the first wave of people this week to get one of those appointments at the Foxwoods mega clinic. In January, Wilbur became sick with COVID-19, which he said led to a discovery of preexisting blood clots.
“So COVID was kind of a blessing and curse,” he said.
Wilbur, who lives across town in Gales Ferry, has recovered from COVID-19 and is getting medical treatment for his other conditions.
“I tell anybody, ‘Yes, please come and get this shot,’” he said. “We’ve been through so much as African Americans that we don’t trust no more, but my pastor got it, and I trust my pastor. My governor got it, my vice president got it, and I trust the doctors.”
“I have a lot to live for.”