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East County Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021 2 months ago

Whirlwind effort delivers 3,000 COVID-19 vaccinations in Lakewood Ranch

State delivers three days of 1,000 vaccinations to Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

When it comes to multi-generational, master-planned communities, Lakewood Ranch is nationally known for selling more homes than anyone else.

Gov. Ron DeSantis knows the reputation.

Jay Heater: Side of Ranch

Schroeder-Manatee Ranch CEO and President Rex Jensen says the governor, though, must have been a little bit foggy on the size of Lakewood Ranch.

It was a Tuesday (Feb. 9) and Jensen was sitting in his office preparing for a meeting. The phone rang. On the other end was developer Pat Neal and Gov. DeSantis.

"The governor said he was trying to increase penetration with the COVID-19 vaccine into this community," Jensen said. "He said Manatee and Sarasota counties could use some assistance and he wanted to find some additional outlets (to issue the vaccine). He would bring state resources to bear to give 1,000 vaccinations a day for three straight days. He would use the National Guard to provide logistical direction.

"And he wanted to do it by Friday (Feb. 10)."

Vanessa Baugh

Jensen noted to the governor that Lakewood Ranch was 50 square miles with tens of thousands of residents. Jensen said the governor suggested picking two neighborhoods, but that wasn't going to work in Lakewood Ranch. If Jensen picked Country Club and Country Club East, for example, how would the residents of other neighborhoods in Lakewood Ranch feel?

This was going to take some additional thought.

That thought part was why Gov. DeSantis was calling Jensen.

"My job was to figure out how to make the nearly impossible happen," Jensen said. "It's what I do for a living."

Jensen suggested using Premier Sports Campus, owned by Manatee County and formerly owned by SMR, as the vaccination site. He said it made sense to go to the county to use its pool in order to select those to be notified and vaccinated.

However, Jensen also said he wasn't in a position to make things happen with Manatee County. He suggested finding someone with the county connections needed to make it all happen. Jensen then called Commissioner Vanessa Baugh.

"She has an idea where all the pieces are," Jensen said. "That's why I went to her."

Jensen called Baugh on Friday and by Monday, the commissioner had connected the dots so vaccinations could begin Wednesday (Feb. 12) and run for three consecutive days. Baugh chose Zip codes 34202 and 34211, which includes parts of Lakewood Ranch, Panther Ridge, Myakka City, Rosedale, Braden Woods, River Club and Concession.

While the National Guard would handle logistics, Baugh lined up the Manatee County Sheriff's Office to handle traffic control. Florida Department of Health workers would perform the vaccinations.

"Vanessa did a great job in a limited time," said Jensen, who noted he had nothing to do with choosing the Zip codes. "She had three days to coordinate this. How do you run 3,000 people through the site in three days?"

By Tuesday, Baugh was feeling the backlash from her fellow commissioners, who questioned her being a lone wolf in putting together the vaccination program in Lakewood Ranch. They questioned why the communication with the other commissioners wasn't better.

Jensen, who was clashed with Baugh many times in the past, obviously feels it's time to stop worrying about being politically correct.

He said Premier Sports Campus is a logical site to host vaccinations and has been underutilized by the county so far.

"You can crank people in and out of there," he said.

And he also noted that any decisions made to get the vaccine out to the public is going to be criticized because "people will complain regardless."

So it's time to go full-speed ahead.

"This is a war, one species against another," said Jensen, who has had COVID-19. "This bug doesn't care where you live, or who you are. We need to get off our butts and kill it."

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