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As Phase 2 begins, Fenway Park and Reggie Lewis Center on the front lines against COVID-19

A waiting area is set up as people are monitored after they got their COVID-19 vaccination shot at Fenway Park in Boston.
A waiting area is set up as people are monitored after they got their COVID-19 vaccination shot at Fenway Park in Boston.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Two Boston institutions — Fenway Park and the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center — will be on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus as they are transformed into vaccination centers in the coming days, while the state launches the second phase of its vaccination effort and makes vital doses available to residents 75 and older.

The disease has killed 14,287 people in Massachusetts and caused nearly a half-million infectionsand the need to inoculate against it grows more urgent with the rise of dangerous variants of the virus. The sports arenas — one longtime home to dreams of glory, the other honoring the legacy of a basketball hero — will cradle hope that the tide will soon turn against COVID-19.

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“It’s critical that we vaccinate as quickly, safely, and in as orderly fashion as possible,” said Samuel Scarpino, an epidemiologist at Northeastern University. “Even setting the variants aside, the current version of COVID that we are dealing with is plenty devastating.”

On Sunday, the state reported 46 new deaths, and more than 2,500 additional infections. Nearly 72,000 active cases were reported, and 1,676 people were hospitalized for COVID-19.

Fenway Park, which had a soft opening Friday, is due to open as a state mass vaccination site at 8 a.m.

Officials made the call around 10 p.m. Sunday not to open the vaccination site at the Lewis Center Monday because of the approaching nor’easter, according to Caitlin McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the Boston Public Health Commission. The storm is expected to dump perhaps a foot of snow on Boston, according to the National Weather Service.

Appointments scheduled for Monday will be rebooked for Monday, Feb. 8, McLaughlin said. Officials will contact those people to reschedule their visits.

Officials expect the Reggie Lewis Center to be open Tuesday, McLaughlin said Sunday night.

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The center will operate as a smaller-scale site run by the City of Boston before it is taken over by the state and expanded later this month, according to Marty Martinez who leads health and human services for the city.

“It’s clear that we know COVID has an inequitable impact on communities of color,” Martinez said. “And we in the city have been laser-like focused on the fact that [it] has disproportionately impacted Black and brown communities.”

The state has had problems getting enough vaccine doses from the federal government. The Baker administration also faces criticism over the pace of distribution with the doses that have come in and the rollout of a state website that has frustrated thousands of people who have tried to schedule appointments for shots.

Meanwhile, state Senator Becca Rausch, a Needham Democrat, said in an e-mail Sunday that constituents continue to tell her the sign-up process is “persistently painful.”

One woman worked for four hours before she was able to get her parents signed up for vaccinations, which Rausch said was representative of the reaction she got.

“The volume of e-mails has decreased, but I do not believe that to be indicative of anything working better,” Rausch said.

The website, which is not a centralized registration system but a portal connecting people to other sign-up sites, carried a notice Sunday warning of delays.

“Due to high demand and severely limited vaccine supply, COVID-19 vaccination appointments may take several weeks to schedule,” the notice said. “More appointments will be available based on supply from the federal government.”

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There are also serious concerns that in communities of color longstanding distrust of the medical system could keep people from seeking the vaccine.

“The challenge is: This mistrust was not built overnight, and it is not going to be solved overnight,” said Dr. Joseph Betancourt, the senior vice president for Equity and Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital. “We should fully expect that this vaccine hesitancy will be the biggest hill we have to climb.”

Dr. Robert Horsburgh, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University, said state officials face an arduous logistical task that will only grow more complex as the number of residents eligible to receive shots grows.

Vaccinations began in December with medical workers and in early January with first responders.

Later in February, people who are at least age 65 and those with two chronic health conditions are expected to be eligible, followed by teachers and other essential workers. A wider rollout is expected in Phase 3, starting in April.

Horsburgh praised the work of the state’s Department of Public Health and said every state is facing similar challenges. But, he said, the agency is just not large enough to tackle this on its own.

“The state has to ramp up its activities substantially and put a lot more people into the game,” Horsburgh said. “Answering phones, and administering shots, and doing paperwork, and managing the lines. This is an important logistical rollout, and it’s going to be difficult.”

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Fenway and the Lewis facility will join mass vaccination sites already in operation at Gillette and the Eastfield Mall in Springfield. A fifth site, the Double Tree Hilton Hotel in Danvers, will open Wednesday. Two more mass vaccination sites will be opened but the state has not yet said where.

Martinez said the city’s goal as it oversees the Reggie Lewis Center site is to administer 1,200 doses per week. The state ultimately hopes to give 1,200 to 1,500 doses each day.

The city worked closely with local community organizations to help people schedule appointments, he said. Officials are focused on outreach and education to help address concerns about the vaccine.

“We’re going to keep that work going to share messaging, share stories, and make sure communities of color understand how important it is to get vaccinated,” Martinez said.

Betancourt said building this trust in the state’s vaccination effort remains a critical issue.

A poll conducted by Suffolk University and the Globe found only 11 percent of Black respondents and 32 percent of Hispanic respondents in Massachusetts were willing to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Majorities of white and Asian respondents said they would get a vaccine quickly.

Governor Charlie Baker, who has acknowledged the frustration of eligible people trying unsuccessfully to book appointments for vaccinations, said Thursday that the state will open a live call center.

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Kate Reilly, a spokeswoman for the state’s COVID-19 Response Command Center, said on Sunday that the state would release more information about the call center this week.

Dr. Philip Landrigan, the head of Boston College’s Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good, said officials have responded to issues as they have occurred.

Landrigan said it took almost two hours for him and his wife, who are over 75, to secure appointments in Foxborough. He praised the Baker administration for creating a live call center to help people navigate the process.

“Executing the plan is tough,” Landrigan said. “I’m sure they’re doing the best they can, but there are some formidable challenges.”

Baker pledged Tuesday that the number of vaccination sites would grow to 165 by mid-February, including the large-scale sites. Currently, there are 115 sites across the state.

By the end of Saturday, about 57 percent of the 1.06 million doses delivered in Massachusetts had been administered to patients, according to Reilly.

Scarpino said he is concerned that as more vaccination centers open and more doses become available, the state’s struggles will continue.

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control, Massachusetts lags behind many other states on administering doses.

Dave McGillivray, race director for the Boston Marathon, is helping to coordinate logistics for vaccination efforts at Fenway and Gillette Stadium.

He compared the ongoing effort to save lives to the response following the 2013 Marathon bombings.

“My motto has always been, the comeback will always be stronger than the setback. And I truly believe such will be the case with our efforts here,” McGillivray said.

Globe correspondent Lucas Phillips contributed to this report.


John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.