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Software snafu behind lack of portal for COVID-19 vaccine appointments in Palm Beach County

Department of Health told Contact 5 portal was being tested
Microsoft Bookings
Posted at 6:04 AM, Jan 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-20 06:09:07-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County is still without an online portal to register for the COVID-19 vaccine, and Contact 5 has learned it's due in part to the software that county health officials planned to use crashing in another county.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health in Palm Beach County told Contact 5 the county planned to use Microsoft Bookings for individuals to book vaccination appointments online.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Coronavirus

"At Pinellas county CHD, they launched to public [sic] on Monday, Jan 4 at noon. At 12:15 the system failed due to too many requests," the spokesperson wrote Contact 5 in an email.

However, the same spokesperson told Contact 5 on Jan. 5 the county was in the final stages of testing its online registration portal.

The county health department's website at the time also mentioned transitioning to a web-based appointment system.

PBC_HealthDeptScreenshot_asof01042021.JPG
Screenshot of the Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County's website as of Jan. 4, 2021.

Contact 5 requested an interview with Dr. Alina Alonso, director of the Department of Health in Palm Beach County, to discuss the agency's decision to use the software, but received no response.

According to Microsoft's website, the Microsoft Bookings software "is an online and mobile app for small businesses who provide services to customers on an appointment basis."

"Examples of businesses include hair salons, dental offices, spas, law firms, financial services providers, consultants and auto shops," the company's website notes.

"[It's] very bizarre to use that," Alan Crowetz, WPTV NewsChannel 5's internet and security expert, said.

Crowetz is the president and CEO of InfoStream in West Palm Beach.

"It's designed for a booking here and there," Crowetz said, noting, "an individual or one firm, but to have mass bookings, it's not exactly designed for that purpose."

Michael Buczyner interviews Alan Crowetz in January 2021
Contact 5 investigator Michael Buczyner speaks with Alan Crowetz of InfoStream.

Crowetz described the county health department's decision to use the software "like putting a square peg in a round hole."

Crowetz also said web portals, like the one the county health department intended to use, should be tested first.

"All these kinds of programs that run in the cloud need to be tested for volume," Crowetz told Contact 5.

As the county lacks an online registration portal, Contact 5 continues to hear stories of frustrated seniors struggling to schedule a vaccination appointment.

SEE ALSO: Thousands of people backlogged to receive COVID-19 vaccine in Palm Beach County | 1,000 COVID-19 vaccines shipped to Palm Beach due to 'miscommunication' | Palm Beach County health director admits to 'very big problems' with COVID-19 vaccine rollout

A single email address, chd50feedback@flhealth.gov, remained the only option to book appointments through the county after a single phone number crashed due to the volume of calls.

Dr. Alina Alonso announced Tuesday the email address would be deactivated so they could focus on scheduling the 200,000 people already in the queue.

Department of Health in Palm Beach County email chd50feedback@flhealth.gov
Dr. Alina Alonso says the email-based system for requesting the COVID-19 vaccine has been discontinued.

Contact 5 shared this latest development with state Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach.

"At one point, I was told that there was a portal," Powell told Contact 5.

When asked who told him, Powell added, "That came directly from the Department of Health ... here."

Powell said he intends to find out more about what happened.

"I think the rollout here has been a complicated process," Powell said.

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