An AppalCART Green Route bus makes it way down West King Street in downtown Boone on Nov. 5, 2020.

RALEIGH — The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services announced Jan. 21 that $2.5 million in coronavirus relief funding is being distributed to local transit agencies across the state to help pay for individuals to get a ride to a vaccination site.

“Lack of transportation shouldn’t be the reason someone doesn’t get their shot,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen said at the Jan. 21 press conference.

According to the agency, each local transit agency will receive a set amount of funding. The funds can be used to offset operating costs associated with transit rides to and from vaccination sites for people who are receiving or assisting someone in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Craig Hughes, director of AppalCART, said the agency has not been told yet if there is a set allocation for AppalCART.

“We are working with AppHealthCare to come up with a plan that will provide safe transportation to the vaccination sites,” Hughes said in a statement. “The announcement was just recently made, so AppHealthCare and AppalCART need a little time to decide on the best way to transport those for which the funding was intended.”

Hughes said the agency will work with AppHealthCare to provide as many trips as needed for those without access to transportation in the most safe and effective way possible.

As AppalCART works with AppHealthCare, Hughes said they will get a better understanding of the demand for those transportation services. He also said transporting people won’t impact normal operations.

AppHealthCare Health Director Jennifer Greene said in a statement the agency is excited about the funding to assist people in getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We want everyone to be able to get a vaccine who wants one when it’s their turn and not have to experience a barrier like paying for transportation in doing so,” Greene said in a statement. “We are appreciative of AppalCART and the critical and important service they provide for our community.”

Watauga County is in Phase 2 of North Carolina’s vaccine rollout plan and is currently vaccinating healthcare workers, those who live and work in long-term care facilities, and those 65 and older. According to NCDHHS, 3,348 people have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 248 people have received the second dose.

“Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is everybody’s business and every organization has something they can do to help,” said North Carolina Department of Transportation Secretary J. Eric Boyette in a press release. “We are committed to doing everything we can to help get North Carolinians vaccinated as quickly and easily as possible.”

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