Despite tundra-like temperatures Saturday across the Denver metro area, thousands of Colorado's teachers and elderly population braved the cold to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
In Aurora, Denver, Lone Tree, Loveland and elsewhere, around 11,250 people put on their hats, gloves, scarves and coats and then journeyed out to roll down their sleeves.
Despite an initial worry that folks might cancel their appointments due to the frigid cold; the exact opposite happened at a UCHealth sponsored vaccination clinic at New Hope Baptist Church in Denver, said Brandi Freeman, a pediatrician with UCHealth.
"I've actually been surprised people are still coming out and wearing just enough layers to stay warm and not make it a hassle to expose their arm for the shot," Freeman said.
Freeman was one of hundreds of nurses across the metro helping at various vaccination clinics.
In Lone Tree's Kaiser Permanente medical facility, some patients 70 and older received their second vaccinations, while many teachers — who just recently became eligible to receive the vaccine — received their first dose.
"As soon as I clicked (to make my) appointment it was a life-changing moment, said Meredith Sheehy, a high school chemistry teacher in the Jefferson County School District.
"It just hasn't felt safe until now, and you can only do so much to be safe, and some people are doing more than others, but this is just a huge relief.
Similarly, Robert Wright, an elementary school music teacher in the Cherry Creek School District, said that after he and his wife — who is also a teacher — had been put into quarantine multiple times, receiving the vaccine felt surreal.
"It's really hard to explain what I'm feeling, but it's just really nice to know that we'll finally have some more protection against this virus," Wright said.
"It'll just be nice to not have to worry as much and not have that feeling of anxiety every day."
Both Wright and Sheehy are currently teaching in-person and said that getting vaccinated is one of the best things to happen to educators since the pandemic began.
"There's been a lot of frustration with the way that this year has gone, but it's nice to finally feel prioritized," Wright said.
At the three vaccination events that happened across the metro that The Denver Gazette visited, parking lots were full and lines were packed, but the total time from check-in to check-out was around 23 minutes.
"The process was very smooth and despite a long line, it only took a few minutes to get the vaccine," said Denver resident Charles Smith, who received his vaccine at New Hope Baptist Church Saturday morning.
To Smith, an African American, said Saturday's turnout of the African American community at the church was very promising to see. He believes the church's involvement made more people willing to get the shot.
"We have physicians that are members of the church and I think that those members give a greater comfort level for those members who might have been skeptical about the vaccine," Smith said.
New Hope Baptist Church Pastor Eugene Downing said one of the church's parishioners mother had a change of heart about the vaccine after learning the church was hosting an event.
Before, she was adamant about not wanting the vaccine, Downing said.
"(The parishioner) told me that his mom did not want the shot and there was no way she would get it," Downing said.
"After telling her about the event at the church, she decided to sign up and get vaccinated, and that just shows how much trust our community members have in us."
Girma Tilahun, an organizer of a pop-up clinic at St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church that planned to vaccinate around 250 Ethiopian community members, shared a similar sentiment.
"With the church's help we are able to hold something like this and keep out community safe," Tilahun said.
By Saturday evening, UCHealth expected to have vaccinated 750 people at the Clayton neighborhood church. Kaiser would it add around 9,500 more by evening and would vaccinate a total of 19,000 across Colorado by the end of Sunday.
"We're just proud to be able to do this," said Carolyn DeGarmo, a medical officer administrator director at Kaiser Permanente.