PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Portsmouth kicked off a COVID vaccine gift card initiative this week at the Portsmouth Sportsplex, which led to hundreds of people 65 and older waiting in line for hours.
Some had to receive medical treatment after standing outside in the heat
Monday was the first of six days where residents 65 and older who have been vaccinated could get a $100 gift card at the Portsmouth Sportsplex.
The doors opened at 9 a.m. Monday, but many were in line long before. Some told 10 On Your Side they’d been there since 5:30 a.m.
“I got here about 8:30 this morning and the lines were back basically toward the fence of the back area,” said Milvena Thompson, who came to get a gift card.
What many didn’t expect was the heat and long wait due to the number of people.
According to Portsmouth police, they received calls for traffic control and medical assistance.
Police Chief Renado Prince told 10 On Your Side that first responders treated six people and transported five to the hospital on Monday. Portsmouth dispatchers also confirmed an elderly woman received treatment after a medical emergency on Tuesday.
“We expected a good turnout but I think this was more than anticipated,” he said about the lines. “We’ve already taken steps to help these people out. Parks and Rec jumped in and brought out chairs. The fire department and Parks and Rec contributed water you see stacked over there. We’re going to do the same tomorrow except get a head start. We don’t want people waiting and standing in the sun and getting sick from the heat. I think it’s going to be a little warmer tomorrow. It’s going to be an early day and a long day.”
Prince says they’ll also provide traffic control on Tuesday and Wednesday.
City officials believe the idea that they would run out of gift cards also contributed to the long line.
The city has 12,000 gift cards for all seniors who’ve been vaccinated. Officials say they obtained the gift cards based on vaccination statistics from the Virginia Department of Health.
Residents who were in line say first responders did a great job helping them in their time of need.
“But the fact there wasn’t medical staff on board from the beginning, knowing you had seniors, that wasn’t a good thing,” said Paulette Mitchell. “The City of Portsmouth should organize it better from now on. The giveaway was good but not the way it was done.”
City officials say they’d take what they learned from Monday and apply it to help future events go more smoothly.
Prince believes that the turnout, while not predicted, shows that seniors are taking the pandemic seriously.
“To see so many seniors in the city vaccinated is hopeful. Hopefully, it continues and people continue to get vaccinated because it pays for all of us. Just because we don’t have the great outcry of COVID right now doesn’t mean it’s gone. We still have employees that get sick every now and then. Our senior populations- they’re leading the way,” Prince said.
The city will host two more giveaways this week, May 17 and 18 at the Sportsplex from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and again next week on May 23, 24, and 25 from 9 am to 1 p.m.
Officials want to remind residents they will not run out of gift cards, but if you do plan on heading out to get it, hydrate, prepare to wait, dress appropriately and use sunscreen.