BLOOMSBURY, N.J. - Joseph Cicchetti and his life partner, Shirley Limburg, have created a unique way to help people get to COVID-19 vaccination sites for free.
Their mode of transportation is a Fiat outfitted to mimic the anatomy of the coronavirus, complete with 50 red-spiked proteins made up of dryer fluff balls and PVC pipes that were spray-painted.
They named their ride "Joes Covee Car." The couple said "covee" is a slang term for the virus that they often heard from the medical community.
"I wanted to draw attention to it," Cicchetti, 58, told FOX Television Stations Sunday. "We wanted to bring attention to the whole get-out-the-vaccine idea."
"And I can’t tell you how many people we drive by and we get hundreds of smiles," he continued. "It’s such a crowd-pleaser around here. It’s amazing."
The couple started their runs on April 2 delivering groceries. They then segued to offering free rides to COVID-19 vaccination sites after their neighbors had trouble making it to their appointments.
"Where we live, it’s a semi-rural area," Limburg, 59, said. "It’s very limited public transportation where we are."
So far, they have given nearly two dozen rides to neighbors.
Clients book rides either through e-mail or phone. The couple wears masks when they pick up their passengers and sanitizes all surfaces. Riders are expected to have their temperatures taken and wear a mask before getting into the car.
Right now, the service is only available in Hunterdon and Warren counties in New Jersey. However, the couple hopes to bring on volunteers and expand the service to other parts of the state. They’ve even started a fundraiser to help maintain the car, gas and PPE equipment needed to keep riders safe.
Cicchetti said he plans to offer the service as long as it’s needed.
The couple knows all too well the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cicchetti said his childhood friend died from the virus and several other friends have gotten sick and recovered. Limburg said her daughter, who’s a nurse, and her family also contracted COVID-19 but have since recovered.
Lack of transportation has hindered vaccination efforts in all parts of the country.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, 45% of Americans do not have access to public transportation. The American Hospital Association said 3.6 million Americans do not get medical care because of transportation issues each year.
Several rideshare companies, such as Uber and Lyft, are also offering free rides to vaccination sites.
Last month, President Joe Biden announced a $10 billion initiative to help expand vaccine access to better serve communities of color, rural areas, low-income populations and other underserved communities. Some of the plans included setting up federally-run community vaccination centers in hard-hit areas, sending vaccines directly to local pharmacies and Community Health Centers that disproportionately serve vulnerable populations, and launching hundreds of mobile clinics to meet people where they are; and created the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force.
The couple hopes other local organizations will help offer rides in their own communities.
"We’re really doing this on a shoestring budget," Cicchetti said. "If we can make a small difference, anyone can do it."
This story was reported from Los Angeles.