When the state announced where the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s COVID vaccine trailer would be going during its 60 days in Connecticut, large cities such as Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven dominated the list — but tucked in the middle was North Canaan, population barely 3,200.
The small town, located on the Massachusetts border in the Northwest corner of the state, wouldn’t seem like a stop for a mobile clinic primarily designed to reach people living in the 50 ZIP codes designated as socially vulnerable by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But when First Selectman Charlie Perotti heard about the FEMA trailer, he asked Torrington Health District Director Robert Rubbo to submit an application with the state Department of Public Health to get the trailer to his town.
Perotti figured the state owed him, after confusing his little town with New Canaan for several months and counting some of that community’s COVID cases as North Canaan’s. He also said the dearth of places to get vaccinated has left residents of his town driving to Kent or as far as Norwich to get their shots.
“There’s nowhere to get a vaccine here except the Walgreens, and you can imagine how fast their appointments get snapped up,” Perotti said.
North Canaan has a lower percentage of residents vaccinated than every community in the state except Hartford and Mansfield, according to DPH data.
About 24% of North Canaan’s residents have received at least a first dose, compared to 22% in Hartford and 23% in Mansfield.
The town also recently got a surprise when some of the state’s first cases of the B.1.1.7 variant were identified in North Canaan residents. Perotti said nobody has explained to him how that happened or who was infected with the so-called British variant. The town has only had 185 COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
To his surprise, the state approved the request, and the FEMA trailer will be parked at Town Hall on April 14 for one day.
DPH spokeswoman Maura Fitzgerald said that North Canaan was chosen because state officials are aware of its low percentage of residents vaccinated and lack of nearby options to get a shot.
“The FEMA mobile unit is being sent there for one day to provide the town’s residents increased access to the vaccine,” Fitzgerald said. “While the FEMA unit is focused mainly on the high SVI towns, we also have some rural areas in the state that also lack equitable access to vaccine, and the FEMA unit will be deployed to those areas as well during the next 60 days to help increase the vaccine numbers in those towns.”
But North Canaan is by far the smallest community the FEMA trailer will visit. It will be in Winsted the day before and Killingly at the end of the month.
The Town Hall parking lot was the only place in the community big enough to meet FEMA’s need for a 3,500-square-foot space to set up the clinic, its generators and other equipment.
Perotti said people flooded Town Hall with calls as word spread that the trailer would be coming.
“We had people calling from Salisbury and Cornwall, because people up here can’t find anything. It’s not just for us but all of the little towns up here in the Northwest corner,” he said.
The FEMA trailer can distribute about 200 shots a day, and Perotti said they won’t have trouble reaching that number and more.
“We probably had over 100 people call already looking for appointments. Now I just need someone to tell me how they sign up for it,” Perotti said.
Griffin Hospital will be staffing the FEMA trailer on its trip to North Canaan, and people can sign up at www.griffinhospital.org/northcanaan.