NEW HANOVER COUNTY – Within the first 24 hours of becoming eligible, more than a third of New Hanover County’s PreK-12 and childcare workforce will receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine Wednesday at multiple mass vaccination sites.
New Hanover County Public Health and New Hanover Regional Medical Center are partnering to allocate and distribute supplies at makeshift clinics at The Pointe Movie Theatre, Trask Middle School and the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.
By the end of the day, 2,200 childcare and education employees will have gotten their first shot.
“We’re happy that they’ve organized this in a way that allows us to not have to worry about finding an appointment, taking off of work,” said Amanda White, a Hoggard High teacher and president of the Association of Educators. “That was the biggest concern when we were looking into when we would be able to get it and how we would be able to get it. So we are pleased that the county, along with the district and the health and human services, decided to really take this on for us so we could just focus on educating the students or feeding the students and taking care of the students in school.”
Eligible education employees include teachers and teacher assistants, as well as administrators, bus drivers, custodians and food service employees and any other staff of public, private and charter schools as well as daycare. Long-term substitutes who are currently affiliated with a school are also eligible.
Up until this point, exclusively people 65 and older and healthcare workers have been able to access vaccines in North Carolina. In an effort to return as many students to physical classrooms as possible, Gov. Roy Cooper announced earlier this month that PreK-12 staff could receive vaccines two weeks before the opportunity opens to all frontline essential workers in early March.
An estimated 6,000 people who work with grades PreK-12 qualify for vaccines in New Hanover County, according to early approximations from the county. New Hanover County Schools employs about 3,900 people.
Of the 2,200 vaccines being administered Wednesday, 1,200 will go into the arms of public school employees. NHCS presented the health department a list of more than 2,700 staff members who expressed interest in receiving the vaccine. According to the county, the school district is prioritizing Pre-K and elementary school teachers for the first event.
Many of those employees will be teaching in classrooms of 20 to 30 students come March 8, the day elementary schools resume five days a week of in-person instruction. In recent weeks the governor has maintained that elementary schools can still reopen safely before teachers are inoculated, even though 6 feet of spacing between students and staff is unfeasible for the majority of schools.
Considering older students are more likely to spread the virus compared to children under 14, middle and high schools are required by the state to meet 6-foot distances in buildings. NHCS secondary schools are currently only allowing students in person up to twice a week, and conducting the majority of its learning virtually, to keep class sizes small and prevent the virus from spreading.
Over the next two weeks New Hanover County is allotting a “significant portion” of its vaccine supply to education workers, a county spokesperson said. One thousand doses are being set aside for the next event to inoculate educational staff and childcare workers, scheduled for March 3. Although it is possible NHRMC will contribute some of its supply toward that effort as well.
The county is seeking additional supplies from the state to plan a third education outreach event.
Employers for teachers and staff are in charge of scheduling appointments for their staff at these events. Although those not attended to during the first may still seek vaccines on their own through other providers.
Anyone who arrives for a vaccine appointment at any location is checked in for the record and must “attest to their eligibility” on their paperwork, according to a county spokesperson. However, there is no identification or proof of work status required to receive vaccines at this time.
It’s still unclear whether identification will be necessary when the floodgates open to the rest of Group 3 on March 10. The next group includes a range of frontline essential workers, including first responders, veterinarians, public transit drivers, and restaurant servers. At this time NCDHHS has not announced whether it intends to further divide the next group to prioritize some professions over others.
Meanwhile, the county is continuing to work through its 65-and-older population, which it estimates is around 37,000 people. More than 55% of that community has received at least their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
In total, more than 23,000 people have been fully vaccinated in New Hanover County, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.
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