ST. GEORGE — After nearly a year of swift changes, school closures, mask mandates and social distancing, officials in Southern Utah school districts said they are preparing to soon receive COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and critical staff, though the exact date is still unknown.
While still in the initial stage, Steven Dunham, communications director for the Washington County School District, told St. George News they have sent the state the number of vaccines they will need, which totals 3,800 and includes full- and part-time staff, as well as substitute teachers.
“We’re waiting to hear back,” he said. “We are anticipating that it will happen fairly soon, and we’re anticipating that we will be working with our local health department.”
The district will continue to work alongside Dr. David Blodgett, the director of the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, so that when the vaccines are sent they will be “ready to go,” Dunham said, adding that they have volunteered their school nurses to participate with the health department in administering the vaccines. He said they will not require employees to be vaccinated at this time.
“We recognize that some people may have medical conditions that may exclude them from being able to take the vaccine,” he said. “We also recognize that the situation may change, and the state may require that at some point, but we will not require it at this time.”
Whether those who receive the vaccine will have to continue to wear a mask, Dunham said that he “believes so.”
“As we’ve seen over the past many months, the science keeps evolving on COVID as we get more information. I believe at this point, there is too little information to assume that we would no longer have to wear masks.”
He added that there is a possibility that this could change, but at this point they will continue to follow all protocols set by the health department.
Since Thursday, positive cases in students and total of quarantined individuals have decreased within the district, Dunham said. There are 95 students and 81 employees who are currently in isolation after having tested positive for the coronavirus. The combined total in quarantine is 591.
While he wasn’t sure whether there had been any recent cases of spread within a classroom, he said they have had “some” spread over the past several weeks.
Shannon Dulaney, superintendent of the Iron County School District, said in an email to St. George News that they will be offering and giving the vaccine to educators and employees as soon as they receive the parameters surrounding its distribution, as well as the actual vaccines.
They already have a process in place, she said, and will continue to refine the process for giving the vaccine to everyone who fits into the parameters and has a desire to receive it.
“At this time, the ICSD team will not be making the vaccine mandatory, given the very preliminary instructions and direction we are being given by the State,” she wrote.
Whether anything will change for those who received the vaccine, she said the school district will follow all requirements, including wearing masks, as long as the health department directs them to do so.
As of Monday, Dulaney said they had 73 active cases in students and staff and 509 in quarantine.
David Heaton, a spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, told St. George News that they are still unsure exactly when these vaccines will arrive but that it should be “quite soon.”
They will receive the vaccines at the health department and administer them to teachers and staff, he said.
Because they are still unsure how strong or long immunity lasts, Heaton said they will continue asking people who get vaccinated to wear masks, practice social distancing and stay home when sick, at least until the case numbers and hospitalizations go down.
As previously reported by St. George News, Gov. Gary Herbert has said that he has no plans to mandate the vaccine but expects that most Utahns will get the vaccine “to protect their loved ones.”
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