Although still voluntary, officials say teachers are getting vaccinated, fewer students being quarantined

Stock photo. | Photo by Andrey Zhuravlev/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — More than 2,500 teachers and staff in the Washington County and Iron County school districts have been able to receive at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to estimates provided by both districts.

In this 2021 file photo, a St. George resident receives a COVID-19 vaccine through the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, St. George, Utah | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

Vaccine appointments for teachers in Southern Utah became available in early January through the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, with Intermountain Healthcare stepping in later to help more educators get the vaccine in a timely manner, said Lyle Cox, executive director of human resources for Washington County School District.

“We conducted a survey in December of all of our employees to find out who was interested in receiving the vaccine,” Cox said. “Initially, when we conducted the survey we found out about 60% of our 4,000 employees were interested, but since then we’ve found people that are changing their minds, and we believe it’s closer actually to about 75% that are interested in receiving the vaccine.”

Both school districts have made vaccination voluntary for employees, and neither is actively tracking the number of teacher’s vaccinated. School district employees that indicated they wanted the vaccine were notified when appointments first became available, and many have received their second dose already.

Steven Dunham, communications director for Washington County School District, told St. George News that district officials feel comfortable that every employee who wanted the vaccine has been given the opportunity to receive it.

“A majority have had both (doses),” he said, “and those that haven’t yet will be getting their second dose here within the next seven to 10 days.”

Iron County Superintendent Shannon Dulaney said their district has approximately 550 employees who have been vaccinated – “based on our best estimate.”

“Some have received two doses, and some have received one and are waiting the four weeks to get their second,” she said. “All vaccinations have been through the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. They’ve been very generous and accommodating so that as many of our faculty and staff who want the vaccine are able to get it.”

In this file photo, a child is engaging in remote learning, Cedar City, Utah, date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Shannon Dulaney, St. George News / Cedar City News

Additionally, officials say the new statewide quarantine guidelines that were announced by former Gov. Gary Herbert in December have meant fewer students and teachers in quarantine. Of particular importance, Dunham said, has been the ruling that those who have had direct exposure at school are not required to quarantine, provided both parties were wearing masks at the time of exposure.

Dunham added that quarantines have still affected students and particularly teachers and that finding ways to accommodate schools with multiple teachers in quarantine has been difficult.

“Fortunately, we have a great provider in the company Education Management & Staffing Solution,” Dunham said. “They have had their work cut out for them. I heard that this last Wednesday, Feb. 24, was their largest day of the year for substitutes, simply because on Feb. 23 so many employees got their second COVID vaccine and had mild reactions to it.”

Both Iron County and Washington County school districts are trying to invest in their teachers and help sustain them through the current pandemic, as well as preparing them for similar interruptions in the future.

In a letter sent out to all Iron County School District employees, Dulaney wrote the following:

Each of you truly are heroes. You are making a difference. You are teaching. You are still laughing. You are caring and connecting with kids. And I am beyond grateful for all you do to support kids and families.

Dunham said that Washington County School District has put a significant amount of the COVID-19 relief money towards professional development and training for teachers. Teachers received training and resources to better facilitate remote learning and to make virtual learning more engaging.

District numbers

In the Washington County School District, as of March 4, there were 16 COVID-positive students, 4 COVID-positive employees and 46 total students and employees in quarantine.

In the Iron County School District, as of March 5, there were 36 COVID-positive students, 12 COVID-positive employees and 77 total students and employees in quarantine.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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