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Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition, alleging unsanitary conditions, wants Grove Hall CVS to stop vaccinating

The Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition is asking officials to shut down the vaccination program at the CVS in Grove Hall after the civil rights group alleged that the store was unsanitary and allowed people seeking vaccinations to gather close together while waiting over the weekend.

Louis Elisa, a member of the group’s steering committee, visited the CVS on Saturday after hearing concerns from neighbors and found a trash can overflowing with refuse and “a crowd of people bunched up together” as they awaited shots of the vaccine, he said in a phone interview Monday night.

A photo that Elisa provided to the Globe shows a rubbish bin packed to the top with paper and other materials. Several lengthy receipts, a brown paper bag, and a snack wrapper lie on the floor beside it.

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Trash on the floor at the CVS at the Grove Hall Mall in Dorchester.
Trash on the floor at the CVS at the Grove Hall Mall in Dorchester.BBCC

Elisa said people who had received shots at the store were directed to a small sitting area and told they could leave after the required 15 minutes, but no one checked on them post-inoculation or told them when they could go.

“That worried me considerably,” he said, adding that he has visited several other vaccine sites around the city and had never seen unsanitary conditions or unsafe behavior.

There were signs in the store encouraging shoppers to socially distance, but no one was enforcing guidelines, he said.

“I don’t think any of these places should exist without there being monitoring,” Elisa said. “It can’t be [only] the registration person and the nurse who administers the vaccine; there has to be at least a third person to get people to social distance, to keep them in place, to also check with people who have been . . . inoculated to make sure that they are all right before they leave the store.

“And clearly the store has to be clean,” he added.

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He said the organization had informed CVS, the Boston Public Health Commission, and the city’s Inspectional Services Department of the conditions in the store.

CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis wrote in an e-mail Tuesday that the company had not been contacted by the coalition. but insisted the store meets sanitary standards, as well as COVID-19 safeguards in the store as a whole and the portion set aside for vaccinations.

“We are surprised and confused about the press release from the Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition for several reasons,” he wrote. “We were not contacted by this organization about any of the concerns they raised, we have not received any such customer complaints about this store, and most importantly we have clear social distancing protocols and signage/markers throughout the store as well as dedicated space for immunizations and post-vaccination observation.”

DeAngelis included photographs of the interior of the store showing arrows installed on carpeting to direct customers through the store, and a photo of the post-vaccination observation area. In all of the photos, the store is visibly clean.

“We share their commitment to ensuring that underserved populations have equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” DeAngelis wrote, adding that the company is willing to meet with coalition members to discuss their concerns. “Given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black and Hispanic populations, we have prioritized underserved communities from the start of the pandemic.”

DeAngelis said 34 percent of the people vaccinated by CVS are Black, Hispanic, or Native American.

At the CVS on Tuesday, those with vaccination appointments checked in at a table before proceeding to the back of the store. Arrows made of white tape directed them to a line in the cosmetics aisle.

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Everyone in line stood on white tape marks on the floor six feet apart. Vaccinations were administered in an area next to the checkout that was closed off with a foldable divider.

Huu Le, who received his second dose at the site Tuesday, said he was happy with his experience. The store did not look unsanitary and “the process was pretty quick,” he said.

When he went to the same store to receive his first dose in March, Lee said it was similarly clean and everyone waiting appeared socially distanced.

But Elisa said neighborhood residents have long had concerns about the way the store is maintained, but those worries are heightened now that it has become a vaccination site.

“When you’re doing medical procedures like vaccinating people, you can’t have the type of conditions that existed there on Saturday, which is unsafe, unsanitary, and unsound,” Elisa said.

Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, another member of the coalition’s steering committee, said Dorchester is among the communities that have consistently seen high COVID-19 infection rates and low vaccination rates, and the neighborhood’s residents deserve to get the vaccine in sanitary conditions.

“We would hope that CVS would have more respect for the residents of this community than to be vaccinating local residents in a filthy environment!” Crawford said in a statement. “Makes you wonder, who’s monitoring the pharmacies?”

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Globe correspondent Christine Mui contributed to this report.


Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.