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All booked up: First appointments for COVID-19 vaccines at the Spokane Arena filled in less than two hours

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 28, 2021

If you didn’t get an appointment at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena to be vaccinated against COVID-19, you are not alone.

All 3,000 appointments for COVID-19 vaccines, offered at the Spokane Arena by CHAS Health and other community partners, were full before 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Earlier in the morning, with about half of the appointments filled, the website crashed and CHAS’ phone lines went down, although the system came back online around 10:30 a.m. and the remaining slots filled very quickly. More than 60,000 attempts to make appointments occurred, CHAS Health said in a press release, and that caused the system to crash.

CHAS has expanded its server capacity by 300% to prevent that from happening again when the health organization receives more vaccine doses and takes more appointments.

“We anticipated high call volume, and we got it,” Kelley Charvet, chief administrative officer at CHAS, told reporters Wednesday .

The state health department is working on hiring and training more staff to assist residents who do not have internet access or are struggling to secure an appointment online. A state phone line might go live as early as Friday.

In the meantime, CHAS is asking those eligible for the vaccine to make their appointments online if they have internet to keep phone lines open for those who do not.

Those who were kicked off the website when it crashed or who had not finished registering for an appointment likely missed their opportunity to get one of the vaccines this time around.

If you are unsure of whether or not you successfully booked an appointment, CHAS provided information for users at

“We understand the frustration; people are very eager,” Charvet said. “We just want to reiterate that we’re doing everything we can with the allotment we have this week. We’re asking individuals to be patient. (Doses) will come, just not as quickly as we want them to.”

Health leaders are asking only people with verified appointments to come to the Spokane Arena to be vaccinated, as there are only enough doses available for the number of appointments booked.

CHAS will open up more appointments once it knows how many doses are scheduled to come next week.

The Spokane Arena vaccination site is open to all Washington state residents, and the Department of Health clarified Wednesday that the four statewide mass vaccination sites, including the Arena, are open only to Washington residents or those who work in Washington state, given the limited supply of the vaccine.

The federal government is distributing vaccine doses to states based on their requested dosage amounts, but also based on population.

Some local residents were able to navigate CHAS’ online tool to get appointments, although it was slow and required a lot of “refresh” and lag time.

Terry Russell said it took him an hour online to schedule his appointment, which was at 4 p.m.

When he got to the arena, the traffic snaked all the way down Boone Avenue, and he opted to park on the side of the street and walk up to the site.

This turned out to be the wrong move, as he was told he needed to stay in his car, he said, although it worked out in the end.

Other people arriving at the arena for their appointments waited in traffic for a long time before getting to the parking lot and being able to go inside to get their vaccination.

CHAS did not respond by press time to requests for comment about traffic congestion or future plans to mitigate traffic.

When Russell got in line, which he estimates was about 40 people long, he waited for about 10 minutes.

Once inside, he said the process was orderly and organized from paperwork to wait time to getting poked, and then waiting in the concession area of the Arena to make sure he didn’t have an adverse reaction.

He received a card that told him how to schedule his second dose appointment in a few weeks, handed over some other paperwork he’d filled out and then left. He said the whole process took about 20 to 30 minutes once inside the arena.

Russell, 66, said it was a relief to get vaccinated.

“It’s going to allow a little bit more functionality in terms of maybe I can go to the grocery store more often instead of calling them in,” he said, noting he also hopes to travel some this summer as well.

Not everyone who attempted to book an appointment was as lucky as Russell on Wednesday.

Marshall Smith, a retired veteran, was on hold for over an hour before he eventually could reach someone at CHAS over the phone to book an appointment. But by 11 a.m. when he got through, there were no slots left.

Smith said he felt that it came down to poor planning and poor execution, although he acknowledged that pulling off a mass vaccination clinic is no easy task.

“If this was easy, somebody else would be doing it,” he said.

He plans to keep staying home and wait a few weeks for demand to ease before trying again.

“You’ve got to be patient – ranting and raving is not going to make it go faster,” he said.

A look at Wednesday’s numbersThe Spokane Regional Health District confirmed 265 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, as well as eight additional deaths from the virus.

There were 106 patients hospitalized in Spokane County hospitals with the virus.

The Panhandle Health District reported a dozen additional deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total for the five-county region to 236. The district also confirmed 162 new COVID-19 cases. There were 55 Panhandle residents hospitalized with the virus.

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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