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I got a Covid-19 shot today thanks to Ben Cohen, a subreddit and an early rising daughter

Around 1:40 p.m., today, I rolled up my sleeve at the CVS on Harrison Avenue near Boston Medical Center and got a Moderna shot (double comorbidities for the, um, win). It all was simple and quick - the longest part of the whole thing was just sitting there afterwards for 15 minutes to make sure I didn't suffer a reaction.

But it only happened because people with programming skills are churning out ways to get around the state's brain-dead vaccination signup system, the one that, when it's not crashing because of capacity issues, is making you fill out the same damn personal-information form repeatedly in the hopes that, maybe, this time, there will still be a slot left for you at the end.

In my case, a guy named Ben Cohen got tired of repeatedly refreshing the CVS Covid-19 Web site to find appointments for some relatives, so he wrote some software, which he modestly described as "the biggest pile of spaghetti code all the way down" that would periodically check the site for new openings and then send text messages to people who had signed up for alerts on his site for new slots in a particular state (he's since expanded his site to include Walgreens and Rite Aid as well).

He posted about this a couple days ago in a Reddit forum about Coronavirus in Massachusetts, where my daughter saw it, went to his site and signed up for Massachusetts alerts.

At 6:16 a.m. on Friday, she got a text from the system that a bunch of CVS slots had just dropped. Now, I was asleep then, so she took the initiative to sign me up for one - the very next day, no less. She knew from my yammering the night before I'd tried and failed, several times, to find something on the state site, the last three times particularly frustratingly so, because I managed to get to the point where you're supposed to fill out all sorts of information about yourself (from allergy information to your health insurer), and at one point, even got to the page where you get to pick a specific slot, only to be told on hitting Submit that no appointments were available.

By the time I did finally wake up, I had e-mail from CVS confirming my appointment - and my next one in a month.

All well and good for me and now I have one of those vaccine cards (and, of course, an appointment for the second shot). But, thank goodness we have a relatively technoaware household going on here. I'm going to bet most people eligible for shots now are not reading Reddit forums and that they don't know about Cohen's project (let alone the other home-grown workaround sites) and damn it, this is Massachusetts, not West Virginia - which, in fact, has a perfectly fine signup system, built by a company headquartered in Burlington.

WBZ reports the state hopes to roll out a new feature in the present system that lets somebody "hold" a vaccination slot through the registration process so they don't have to waste their time answering a page of questions only to be told no appointments are left (it's a system familiar to anybody who's ever tried to buy Red Sox tickets online, at least back in the glory days). Timeline? "In the next several weeks."

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Cohen's site is giving server errors. I guess it's overloaded.

Update: I just tried again, and it signed me up.

Further update: The Cohen site has not texted me with any openings, but CVS has sent me texts that there are appointments available. When I click the included link, they are all taken. Beth Israel emailed me, unsolicited, that I'm eligible, and they will be sending me an invitation later. It looks like things are beginning to loosen up, but I am still unvaccinated.

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Using a bot to do this without throttling can cause the site to crash or perform slowly, especially with “spaghetti code” - so while it may work for s9me, it will create more problems in the short term since it is behaving like 10 users a second

A for the effort to help, but D for the implementation.

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It's a real testament to how much the current system sucks that they didn't design it to block bots. (Or provide a documented API with rate limiting.)

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That they didn't design it to say "click here to sign up to receive a notification when appointments become available."

Or!

"Please enter your information here, and you will be queued by priority [declining age, # of comorbidities] and receive an email when appointments become available. Or click this box and you will be assigned the first available appointment within [drop down: 5, 10, 25] miles of your home zip code."

None of this is that hard. I bet if they'd posted on Universal Hub and said "Adam, can you whip together some codey-types to make a vaccine website" we could have figured it out.

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If it's this frustrating and overwhelming for households with high technical literacy, imagine how impossible it must feel for people who may not have a computer at home, or who are ESL, or who just aren't used to navigating absurdly complex online sign-up systems. When even the most advantaged people are having to make outrageous efforts to get an appointment, it's a safe bet that the most disadvantaged are being left behind entirely.

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"the most disadvantaged are being left behind entirely"

Which is perhaps the point, after all.

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Their needs are being addressed by other systems that don't account for the WHY NOT MEEE NOWWW crowd's whinging about computers.

Thousands were vaccinated in Lawrence and Brocton this week. Homebound elders are being brought their vaccines in several communities where isolation is an issue.

You don't see that, I do.

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The Commonwealth shut off all supply to local Health Departments.

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The state is providing vaccines and funding to local health centers in 20 municipalities, chosen by COVID rates and minority population.

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the town will bring vaccine to a homebound acquaintance.
When they get a supply, that is.

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...your attitude is so dismissive of frustrated, elderly and ill people who just want to get their shot. If everyone else with inside knowledge is as callous as you are about how this is going, then things certainly won't get fixed. Have you tried to register using the website? Do you understand that many of the frustrations were not due to simply the lack of appointments but that people spent hours entering information over and over again because there was no queuing system to hold the appointment while they entered 8 pages of information? I entered my parents' info 50+ times over the course of hours. I was incredibly lucky to get them appointments finally, but they were 70 miles away, 2 hours apart from each other, and I had to drive them there in a snowstorm.

And I am a public health person too so don't try to bureacracy-splain to me about all the things you see that the public doesn't. The vaccine rollout has been truly awful and you can't just keep blaming it on supply. The chaos caused by terrible systems and management is causing confusion and distrust, and many elderly people are just giving up (as my mother had before I stepped in). But keep it up with your all-caps dismissals of legitimate complaints bc you're defensive of your poor job performance.

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I agree with your article. How lucky your parents to have you in helping them with an appointment. I am 78 years old, housebound because of a foot operation. I live in Freetown, town was refused to offer the vaccine. I called board of health in town to help me out, oh yes and also the senior center. No help at all. I thought a nurse from town, a fireman, or even a policeman could come to the house. That didn’t happen. After a weeks of trying I was able to get my husband an appointment. For myself nothing yet. I have lived in this town for overt 50 years. Baker has offered a reach out to New Bedford and Fall River, Freetown abuts Fall River, however this does not help me. As of now I have no options other than Fenway, Gillette, for which I cannot go to, because I cannot put pressure on my foot. This has been a nightmare from day one.

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It makes you wonder.

From Baker’s companion policy to his redirection of doses from hospitals and community health centers to remote mass vaccination sites added to the website nightmare, the needs of the disadvantaged have been mostly ignored.

Public uproar has put pressure on him and it looks like it may start to have some effect. We'll see in the next few weeks.

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Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

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Not enough vaccine.

When there is enough vaccine, it won't matter.

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I've seen lots of headlines about the problems with the website and registration, but I think that there is more going on in how people are getting access in ways that are running much better but hasn't garnered coverage. I have an anecdotal story that's at least an indication that there are systems in place where people who aren't "dialed in" to the online world are not completely left behind.

There is an elderly woman who is an old family friend that lives with her sister, one doesn't have a computer and the other has an old one that she barely uses. When they expanded the vaccine I called her to see what her plans were and she told me they were going to call their doctors first to see if they could help. I told her I would help them and try to get appointments on the website if they needed it.

She called her doctor and because she has had an anaphylactic allergic reaction to penicillin in the past she'll need to see an allergist first. Apparently through that she will get an appointment for the vaccine at a hospital. Before they even called her sister's doctor they got a call from Beth Israel about setting up an appointment at Fenway. That was a surprise to them because she has never been a Beth Israel patient. When she said that getting to the park was inconvenient because they live in Dorchester the woman on the phone said it wasn't a problem and booked her a slot at a vaccination site in a church in that neighborhood. That first Saturday after the access was expanded to people over 75 her sister was in and out of that vaccination site with the first dose in a little over fifteen minutes.

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just how fucked up this system is. I love living in MA becauseWe lead in most progressive/tech/social areas. But wow, what a horrorshow the COVID vaccine thing has been. Baker said on WGBH that he’s “really pissed off” about how ineptly the state has dealt with Val scheduling. Not a fraction of those who would like to get faxed. That understates it by orders of magnitude. He should be going Japanese and throwing himself on a sword, it is that bad. Every. Single. Time. You. Want. To . Try. For. A. Vaccine. Appointment. You. Need. To. Re. Load. All. Of. Your. Info. Rmation. Jee. Zuss.. Fuc. King Christ!

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Congrats

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Congrats on getting your shot.

A better system would have been to allow the entire population to sign up months ago. Everyone would input their age, medical history, etc. An algorithm would assign a priority coupled with availability of doses, perhaps giving people their choice of dates as slots became available. Programmatically, this is not a hard thing to create. You could even program it so that traditionally sidelined groups got a higher priority level.

But if such a system existed, people like Adam might not be getting their shot for another few weeks, particularity if others were deemed a higher priority due to their age or medical history. (Smoking should be a lower priority than stage 4 cancer, 74 y.o. before 65 y.o, etc.)

I'm curious if people who got a shot early in the Phase II group would have been willing to wait longer if there was a better website and that website assigned them a date several weeks into the future for whatever reason.

Irrespective of the website, there's just not that many doses available right now.

I'm not defending how much the current system sucks, BTW.

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Programmatically, this is not a hard thing to create.

As I have mentioned before I am neck deep in the distribution side of this.

And I have also had it up to here with armchair logisticians.

THE CENTRAL PROBLEM IS THE UNPREDICTABLE AND INADEQUATE SUPPLY OF VACCINE. PERIOD.

That lack of clarity prevents releasing appointments. That prevents distribution. That causes ALL of the problems that we are seeing with too many wanters and not enough juice.

MA has gotten under 2 million doses, used most of those for 1st and 2nd doses for priority groups and just opened eligibility for 1.5 million people needing 3 million more doses because of whining about delays. THAT IS THE PROBLEM HERE! THERE IS NOT ENOUGH VACCINE AND NOT ENOUGH INFO ON WHAT THE FEDS WILL SEND.

You are also keenly ignorant of the problems of supplying vaccine to highly vulnerable, highly exposed people who have been TERRORIZED into thinking that ANY request for aid will result in criminal action and deportation - even among people with green cards and some with citizenship! Those people are being taken care of off line through community health providers and EJ community designations.

All of this whining about the system and why doesn't the computer system work now for ME amounts to one thing and one thing only: a PRIVELEGE OLYMPICS where "why pam I not getting this nOOOWWWWWWW" has become the underlying motivation in claiming all sorts of bullshit that isn't in evidence.

Note that this is not aimed at you personally, but to the entire class of people who just need to wait a few more weeks for the supply system to resolve and STOP WHINING AND SPREADING BULLSHIT.

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Resource scarcity isn't a new thing. There's many ways to solve the problem but either way, people are going to need to wait for the reasons you mention: There just isn't the supply.

A better website would allow someone to register once and not need to keep checking daily. The website back-end would randomly assign people to slots as they become available, perhaps weighting based on some additional factors. But since there's 1,000,000 eligible people and only ~30,000 slots a day, people are going to need to wait for weeks.

The alternative is the current system whereby people click refresh every few seconds (or have a bot) and eventually they'll get lucky.

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... would greatly reduce frustration and anxiety for just about everyone.

Currently it seems people are spending hours hunched in front of their computer screens like slot machine addicts in Vegas.

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“And I have also had it up to here with armchair logisticians“

Uh oh, somebody’s in trouble now!

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The point above was that you could have a system where we could have everyone start signing up now, and by entering some basic information (date of birth and health issues/conditions that might impact the algorithm) you could generate a list of what order people should get the vaccine. Your all caps histrionics about "THE UNPREDICTABLE AND INADEQUATE SUPPLY OF VACCINE" does not change the fact that the system described is still viable and the vaccine supply would just be one thing that is factored into the design of the system's operation.

For the sake of simplifying the argument let's say that we have five million people registered through such a system (including people who can register by phone where someone else will enter the data if they do not have internet access and they will be contacted by phone as well). If the state currently had one million doses the first million people on the list get to make appointments right away. When the state has another million doses on the way then the next million people on the list get notification to set up an appointment. For the scenario described above it is all about developing a prioritization system, that "THERE IS NOT ENOUGH VACCINE AND NOT ENOUGH INFO ON WHAT THE FEDS WILL SEND" is irrelevant because the system would simply open up to people on the list as it becomes available based on that priority ranking. None of that prevents a parallel system of access to people who are afraid to enter that system through community centers where they can walk in and get it without the data entry requirement.

I've seen your comments on here for years, and while you often add a lot to the conversation I also think sometimes you have blinders on and don't actually consider what is being written. That's what leads to things like your comment here where you jump right into your "I have experience in something related to what you're talking about so now you will listen to me be the expert!" mode while completely missing the point. That's obvious when the comment you're replying to even acknowledges that there is insufficient supply at the end.

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Thanks for understanding my point.

The problem with logistics on the government side and a sign up process on the public side are two separate problems. One is no doubt challenging and the other should be easy.

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As I have mentioned before I am neck deep in the distribution side of this.

And I have also had it up to here with armchair logisticians

THE CENTRAL PROBLEM IS THE UNPREDICTABLE AND INADEQUATE SUPPLY OF VACCINE. PERIOD

Taking those in reverse order....

Supply issues (and the solving of them) do not preclude having a better registration/tracking system, and in fact would even be helped by having a better registration/tracking system.

We've had examples in this saga - here and in NY, at least, probably other places too - of armchair logisticians and amateurs coming up with better ways to do things.

...and the more you stamp your feet and yell about you being "in the know" and not simply referring people to the official sources - the more I'm reminded of the many good professionals I know in many fields who work in public (state and federal) agencies and departments and contractors who leave the talking (especially in life-and-death situations) to the designated people in the food chain and don't spend their time lobbing social media grenades about "where the problem is" and the less credence I'm inclined to give anything you say.

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“...and the more you stamp your feet and yell about you being "in the know" and not simply referring people to the official sources”

This lack of links to sources along with the claims of omniscience and super powers and the strange mocking of imagined “Save the Elders” signs led me to lose any respect or credence in this poster a while back. They seem more interested in bullying than debate.

If this poster is for real, involved in public health, I’d be concerned they might be bending some public relations policy and risking their job.

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People can register their info online once they are eligible for vaccination (based on whatever stage the state is in) and then they get an email when appointments are available for them. There isn’t the frantic need to keep refreshing and hunting for slots.

I don’t know if NH is prioritizing for appointments based on relative severity of medical needs within each stage though. My parents signed up in late January, as soon as they were eligible. Within a few days my dad, a 78-year-old heart attack survivor, got an appointment for March 10. My mom, age 76, got an appointment for about a week later.

In terms of anxiety and frustration, they’ve both been very reassured by knowing exactly when they’ll get their shots, even though they still had to wait several weeks. As Dad said to me a couple days ago, “We’ve been staying home for what, 8 months already, what’s a few more weeks?” (Dad is so mellow that he actually underestimates the length of the pandemic.)

I don’t know why NH is willing to book first-dose appointments several weeks out while MA only does a week at a time. Clearly the states have very different ideas of how to handle the uncertainty in vaccine delivery forecasts.

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Adam,

If you have 2 comorbidities, please consider becoming part of this study at John’s Hopkins for those with chronic illness. You don’t have to be in Baltimore and can take part even if you have already had your first shot. They send the draw up to a local lab.

https://vaccineresponse.org/

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Thanks for posting this. I'm signed up. I am curious about what they'll find.

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I happened to notice a Gaffin byline in the Bulletin a few weeks back. Is the kid following in her father’s footsteps?

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Yes, that was her, but, no, she's definitely not going into journalism or anything close to it. She's seen what it pays!

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Is it still only avail to certain age groups?

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Which is now 65+. But I qualify under another criterion that was announced when the state lowered the minimum age from 75 to 65 (the two-comorbidities thing).

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Apply to everyone that gets scheduled or only for those 75+?

Thx

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https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-vaccinations-for-people-ages-....

Individuals accompanying a 75+ resident to their vaccination appointment at 1 of 4 mass vaccination locations can make an appointment to also be vaccinated at the same location on the same day.

Mass vaccination locations have the most appointments and update their schedules every Thursday. Mass vaccination locations include the vaccination site at Gillette Stadium, Fenway Park, the DoubleTree in Danvers, and the Eastfield Mall in Springfield.

Only one caregiver is permitted to schedule an appointment with each 75+ resident.
If a 75+ resident already has their first appointment booked, caregivers can schedule an appointment to receive their first dose when they accompany for the second dose appointment.

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I got an appointment from the state site, or rather, from the link posted by @vaccinetime on twitter. I saw that a bunch of appointments were posted, signed up, got the confirmation email. Then got a notification that I had to cancel it and sign up again, because (according to the county health department person who emailed) "a glitch in the state system resulted in over 400 vaccination spots being claimed within moments by an internet bot". So, all of us who had legit appointments needed to cancel the ones we'd been given and sign up again. I have no idea why. I was able to successfully reschedule, but wow, what is going on?

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I've actually wondered if it's possible for one person to grab a bunch of appointments and then change the info later. If so, they could create a secondary market and sell appointments. Whenever there's a scarcity of something, this is a huge temptation.

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If so, they could create a secondary market and sell appointments.

That is exactly what I'm concerned about.

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Bakers plan of the week containing the new feature of the week is just putting lipstick on the pig. The theater paradigm probably won't work. It will result in massive traffic resembling a DNS attack which is exactly what happened at rollout. Most successful states are using preregistration and then notifying people when a slot opens up. This spreads the load to 24/7. People will tolerate slowness and a wait for a slot as long as they believe it is fair and reliable.

The theater paradigm could allow a tech savvy person to put "holds" on multiple slots and sign up every relative or friend who submits personal info to them. I predict the frustration level will exceed last weeks.

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Congratulations?

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I saw this afternoon that Walgreens has a number of openings available. I went through the process to register (I'm familiar with it as we brought my 101-year-old Mother earlier this month to Walgreens for her first dose) but could not complete the registration process.

They have the system designed to sign you up for both first and second doses at once - because the system doesn't have slots available in a month, they give you an error message that they 'Aren't able to book both of your appointments at this time. Please try again later." There are dozens of open appointments in the greater Boston area which aren't able to be filled by people looking for their first dose, due to this systemic second dose requirement.

I have read of others coming across this and contacting Walgreens - they were only told to "keep trying." Is this because pharmacies don't know in advance if they will have sufficient doses in 3-4 weeks' time? Will all those slots go unfilled? Seems a waste of open slots....Walgreen locations are convenient for those of us who live in the city....

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I heard walgreens since last wednesday is only allowing appts for 2nd shots currently. Website doesnt tell you that unfortunately. I confirmed it by pretending i wanted the 2nd shot, filled in date 28 days prior saying id gotten pfizer shot and it booked me! Of course i cancelled it, since i was testing the system and wondered why i could not book the 2 shots.

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But it shouldn’t be this hard. It took me several hours over several days to book appointments for me and my mother and I am in Phase I and she is way over 75.

Yes, demand is outstripping supply but the Ma. rollout and website has sucked bigly so far.

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in software engineering courses, right next to Therac-25, the killer radiation therapy machine.

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And rolling out to under 75s, wtf? I’m 65, but I’d rather see older people getting vaxxed to the max before we roll out to my age and people who think that maybe some time years ago they tried a cigarette. I’m a pretty creative guy and if you asked me to come up with a fucked up system I wouldn’t have come up with this shit-show.

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I’m 65, but I’d rather see older people getting vaxxed to the max before we roll out to my age

Age is only one vulnerability factor, and vulnerability/likelihood of severe disease is only one reason to prioritize people for vaccination. While you're gunning for "people who think that maybe some time years ago they tried a cigarette", did you forget that "first responders" were prioritized ahead of those 75+? The reasoning is because they come into contact with many people, and vaccinating them minimizes the spread. Thus, it goes back and forth: first covid-facing medical staff, then some vulnerable people, then more medical staff and first responders, then more vulnerable people - that's where we are now. Next step of phase 2 is workers with frequent contact: grocery, transit, teachers, etc. None of it is perfect, but it all has reasoning behind it.

And as far as "people who think that maybe some time years ago they tried a cigarette" - there are a lot of people whose medical conditions make them very vulnerable to severe disease. You are always free to refrain from getting vaccinated if you do not feel that you are vulnerable, but it's probably best if you don't second-guess the needs of others.

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Older than I thought you were @adamg
Reading back..
I should stop assuming.

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I have two-plus comorbidities and am under 65. My mom is over 65 and can’t get a vaccine. I don’t see what Ben Cohen’s app is doing other than helping people game the system. The people who most need this vaccine (the elderly, people who don’t have reliable broadband internet) aren’t going to be checking out Reddit. Or this site. They’re going to lose their shot, literally and figuratively, to people who, quite honestly, are probably going to be okay if they stay in their homes a little longer until there’s enough vaccine to go around.

The state has absolutely botched things. Knowing that, and knowing that there are elderly people and sicker people than you who need the shot more than you, you felt like it was cool, cool, cool to go ahead and get set up. Bravo. Thanks for your selflessness, hero citizen journalist.

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Still think I am gonna take up smoking again after smoking for 20. (and quitting for 4).

This just burns me up.. can be fat N a smoker, and you can get a vaccine. But middle finger for the rest of the us.

Just burns me up because all my life I am told

"must be control weight"
"must quit smoking"

all for your health.

BUT APPARENTLY THIS IS FALSE NOW

I think these people should have been the LAST PEOPLE in line. See smokers these days.. all huddled together, masks down, suckin on cancer sticks outside. Obviously they don't care about their health..

SO WHY SHOULD THEY GET A VACCINE FIRST?

(Spare the medical arguments. I don't care.. this is asinine)

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If you have comorbidities caused by your smoking, yes. That’s legit.

Just being a smoker is not a risk factor. Plenty of smokers, especially the young ones, have yet to develop COPD, cancer, heart disease, etc. Some never do.

Why did they chose to allow smokers yet not those routinely exposed to secondhand smoke in the home, workplace, etc?

The list should be restricted to genuine comorbidities. It should not include behaviors that potentially can lead to them.

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YOU don't need to start smoking again to qualify, as far as I understand it.

The state website lists "smoking" as a hyperlink to the CDC website which states: "Being a current or former cigarette smoker increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19."

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You're absolutely right, I had some help playing the system and, with a bit of luck thrown in, "won" a pair of shots.

And, yes, it shouldn't be that way, which is why I wrote what I did.

As for cheating other people out of shots, though, maybe you missed the part where I mentioned I have two underlying health conditions that qualified me to get in the game to begin with. I may come across as hale and hearty with my strong, vigorous keystrokes, but, well, I really do have reason to be more concerned about the virus than other folks. I don't care to get into detail in public about the specifics, but it bothers you enough, I'm sure there's some number at DPH you can call to complain about me, and when a DPH investigator contacts me, I'll gladly put them in contact with my doctor.

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Is it really "gaming the system" when you can only by absolute literal definition describe what we have set up here as a "system?"

Adam followed the rules the same as everyone else. The supply of vaccines is limited and scarce. If X and Y are both people eligible to receive the vaccine, X really should not be getting upset with Y if Y was able to get an appointment and X is still waiting. It's not Adam's fault similarly eligible people are still waiting.

That is going to be the case throughout this process until supply exceeds demand. It sucks but there's not much anyone can do about that fact; even if we threw infinite resources into vaccine production and distribution, we are not going to wake up the next day and magically 600 million vaccine doses were produced and shipped out in 1 night.

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What do you know about his condition other than he has two comorbidities? Same as you! His could be worse, the same or less threatening than yours. You have no idea if anyone eleligible is more deserving than he.

He shared the site as best he is able. He reported news. Seems to me he did the responsible thing.

If you want to urge everyone to boycott it because you think it’s fairer that everyone be restricted to the state’s cumbersome time consuming website, go ahead.

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I got all hot N bothered thinking that Ben Cohen was in town and some how helping with thee website.

But alas.. not hunky Rugby Player Ben Cohen

Is the pandemic over yet? Clearly I'm thirsty... very thirsty.

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This is great! I got a text at 5:30AM and am now scheduled to be vaccinated on Monday. Which means I get to see my grandchildren soon - bless you! Another tickle of the tip jar inbound.

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