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Teachers move up on vaccine priority to help schools keep students in classrooms

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Teachers have been added to the list of people to get the COVID-19 vaccine in the 1B phase of distribution, which is currently underway in Routt County.

People in the 1B group are just starting to be vaccinated in the county, and the already large group got even larger Wednesday when Gov. Jared Polis further broadened the eligibility.

The initial 1B group was limited to moderate-risk health care workers, such as home health, hospice care and dental workers as well as first responders, but the group substantially expanded on Wednesday with teachers, those 70 and older, grocery store workers and people essential to the government among others moving up on the priority list.



Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks said superintendents around the state were lobbying for such a move to protect educators and get more students in school.

Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County chief medical officer, said it is difficult to compare the effect of people of various occupations getting vaccinated, but to him, teachers can have a trickle down effect on the community.



“They have more of a downstream effect than some of the other occupation areas do,” Harrington said. “They have such a broad impact on students and the students’ families and then the workplaces of those families.”

Harrington said public health officials have been looking for a way to vaccinate teachers sooner for a while. He said a vaccinated teacher would likely not have to quarantine if a student in their classroom got COVID-19.

This could go a long way to keeping students in school. Meeks said the primary challenge to keeping students in school is trying to find substitute teachers to fill in when teachers are exposed to the virus and are told to quarantine by public health officials.

Each school district in the county has had to stop holding classes or move classes online because of an outbreak that left them without enough teachers. If vaccinated and teachers did not have to quarantine, the likelihood of quarantines causing a school to go remote would substantially decline.

“We can open school for hybrid or in-person, the problem is we have an event, an outbreak, we don’t have enough substitutes because of the quarantine protocols,” Meeks said. “The sooner that we can get people vaccinated, it increases our likelihood to keep schools open.”

Christy Sinner, superintendent for the Hayden School District, said she was happy to see the state moving educators up on the vaccine list.

Sinner said her district would be meeting with Routt County Public Health on Monday to go over how things will roll out. She said basically anyone having contact with students working within the school system would get a vaccine.

“That includes paraprofessionals, teachers, custodians, bus drivers, everybody within the school,” Sinner said.

South Routt School District Superintendent Rim Watson was grateful for the change and said it would go a long way to ensure the district can maintain its commitment to in-person learning.

South Routt was forced to send students to winter break early because a few positive COVID-19 cases in the school sidelined too many teachers to keep the school open.

It is not yet clear when the county will be ready to start immunizing teachers, but like they did with health care workers, the county will communicate to teachers and other groups when it is their turn to get the vaccine.

Because of the limited number of vaccines the county gets each week, about 200 currently, it will take some time for them to vaccinate everyone in the now larger 1B group. Some of the vaccines the county will get are also earmarked for use to give people the second shot they need to complete the full immunization.

In addition to teachers, Polis added people age 70 and older, day care staff, some food and agriculture workers, manufacturing, grocery store workers, people who provide direct care to the homeless and some journalists.

Polis also added essential personnel needed to run the various branches of state government, postal service and public transportation workers as well as public health workers.

Harrington said this has substantially increased the size of the 1B group, likely delaying when people in phase 2, will get the vaccine, including people with conditions making them more vulnerable and additional essential workers.

“I am a little concerned that it could take us more than a month to get through all these people,” Harrington said.

He stressed that people need to be patient as health officials work to get people vaccinated. Harrington said they get calls from people expressing concerns and asking when they will be able to get the vaccine.

“I understand a lot of it, they just want to know,” Harrington said. “But a lot of people are expressing their concerns and at times even anger about why they are not getting the vaccine or when they are going to get a vaccine and why it isn’t now.

“We are just asking everyone to be patient,” he added.


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