County vaccination plans for school staff coming together

By Heather Bailey, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, January 27, 2021

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On Jan. 15, the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) and the Sonoma County Department of Health Services (SCDHS) announced a COVID-19 immunization plan for school staff throughout the county and they appointed a familiar north county face to head up the program, Dr. Jeff Harding.

Harding is a former high school principal and assistant superintendent in the Windsor Unified School District, and is credited with getting Windsor High School off the ground as its first principal. He then moved to the Healdsburg Unified School District where he served for seven years as their superintendent of schools, stepping down in 2015.

With immunizations for educators on the horizon, SCOE and SCDHS are working together to ensure that the county’s roughly 14,000 educators and childcare providers are swiftly vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to SCOE, the state recently identified school staff as a priority for vaccination under Phase 1b, Tier 1. They will be among the next to be vaccinated following the completion of Phase 1a (healthcare workers and long-term care workers.) While the state has now prioritized residents age 65 and older over the general school staff population, school staff aged 65 and older will qualify for the vaccine earlier, along with the rest of their age cohort.

“Immunization is a critical step in our ongoing efforts to ensure that students, teachers, and school staff get back into the classroom as quickly and safely as possible,” said Dr. Steve Herrington, Sonoma County superintendent of schools, in a statement, emphasizing that details and information were changing quickly based on the latest information from the state and federal government, as well as vaccine availability.

“This will be a Herculean task, and we are working hard with our partners at the county to prepare for it,” he said.

“We recognize the social and emotional challenges faced by students and families during the pandemic. That’s why we’re coordinating proactively with our education partners,” Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said in a statement. “We’re committed to ensuring that school districts have plans in place to reopen safely, including immunizations for our educators, that allow our students to return to in-person learning as soon as possible.”

SCOE has hired Harding to coordinate the immunization process between the Department of Health Services and Sonoma County school districts, charter schools, private schools, day cares and preschools.

According to a statement from SCOE, a team meets weekly with public health staff “to develop a plan and have systems in place when it becomes educators’ turn on the vaccine schedule. Educators are listed in Phase 1b, tier 1 of the state’s immunization plan. Currently, the county is still helping health care providers and other community partners to administer vaccines to those in Phase 1a. Preparing to immunize educators includes identifying school sites that can serve as vaccination clinics in various locations throughout the county and recruiting, immunizing, and training a team of school nurse volunteers to assist with immunization. SCOE is also coordinating with the child-care providers to ensure preschool and day-care providers receive priority immunizations.”

Once the rollout for school staff begins, educators will likely be prioritized for vaccination based on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s school reopening recommendations. Special priority will be given to pre-school, childcare and elementary school employees followed by secondary school employees, district and county office employees and community college staff.

COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved for use in people under the age of 16, so vaccination of students is not currently part of the planning process.

In addition, though vaccination is a priority, at present, there are metrics connected to reopening of schools that factor in vaccinations. In other words, all reopening plans are based on case rates and testing positivity, rather than whether or not a district or school has managed to vaccinate it’s staff.

Even if Newsom gets his recent proposals for a rapid reopening of schools approved, Sonoma County at present still does not meet the proposed matric of 25 cases per 100,000 to start the process. As of Jan. 25, our case rate is 34.2 per 100,000.

Information is developing rapidly, and the latest updates on school immunization can be found at scoe.org/vaccines. Educators are advised to check this webpage frequently for information about COVID-19 vaccinations. Additionally, Sonoma County’s vaccine distribution website maintains updated information about the vaccination rollout in Sonoma County here: https://socoemergency.org/vaccine.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com