For months, a tucked-away, nondescript building on Rocky Springs Road has served as a de facto hub for Frederick County’s COVID-19 response.

The Scott Key Center functioned primarily as a career resource center for people with developmental disabilities until June. That’s when the Frederick County Health Department moved in and repurposed the space to assist in the battle against the novel coronavirus.

At first, there were rows of floor-to-ceiling shelving that provided air-conditioned storage for personal protective equipment, or PPE.

The PPE was being stored in a non-air conditioned warehouse in the county, and when temperatures neared 100 degrees, “It was awful,” said Dr. Randall Culpepper, the deputy health officer for Frederick County.

The protective gear has since been moved to another, more-suitable warehouse. But the Key Center will remain an important location on the front lines in the battle against the virus — it now serves as the county health department’s primary place to vaccinate first responders like firefighters, police and EMTs.

On Tuesday, the Key Center hosted the health department’s first official vaccine clinic for first responders, as roughly 50 doses of the Moderna vaccine were administered to Frederick County fire and rescue personnel and those administering the shots.

There will be more clinics at the Key Center in the coming weeks, as the county health department ramps up its vaccine distribution effort. They’ll be contingent on the size and timing of the vaccine shipments. The next clinic is likely to be Monday for more first responders.

“I am excited,” Culpepper said. “There have been months of planning for this [moment] already.”

Over the course of a 31-year career with Frederick County government, Shawn Dennison worked at the Scott Key Center to help create career paths for people in need.

The Key Center will remain a familiar workplace for Dennison as he transitions into a new role as a public affairs officer for the county health department’s COVID division, a job he officially begins Monday.

The job is a six-to-12-month assignment for Dennison, who will assist the health department with its coronavirus messaging and help provide vaccine information and outreach to the business community, people with special needs, minority communities and underserved populations.

Once the job ends, he plans to jump back into the career-assistance field.

“In order to get back to developing work opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, we’ve gotta get through this [pandemic] first,” Dennison said.

Once it had moved the PPE to a more suitable warehouse, the county health department offered the Scott Key Center to the Frederick County Parks and Recreation division, which began refashioning it for its purposes.

But with a vaccine on the way and the need for more space, the county health department asked for the building back, and Frederick County Parks and Recreation quickly granted the request.

“You know, we have been using this phrase from the beginning. We are literally flying the airplane as we are building it,” Culpepper said. “It just describes exactly what is happening.”

Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek

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