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COVID-19 surge on Florida campuses inspires partnership to offer eligible teachers vaccine

Post-holiday surge of cases still exhausting districts
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Posted at 5:13 PM, Jan 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 08:50:01-05

The COVID surge in Florida schools is prompting new pleas to the Governor and new action by local school districts desperate to keep teachers safe.

The post-holiday COVID surge of cases among teachers and students in Florida is a battle still exhausting some school districts.

“We’re seeing the impact of winter break now,” said Seminole County school district spokesperson Michael Lawrence.

Since students and staff returned to campus this month, the district has reported 200 new cases, about a third of all cases reported during the first semester.

In Manatee County, the district quarantined 300 students and staff due to possible exposure on Tuesday alone.

While transmission of the virus in schools is still widely considered low, the increase in cases among students and staff is inspiring new appeals to the Governor. Last month, the Florida Superintendents Association sent a letter to Governor DeSantis encouraging teacher vaccinations. This month, several school districts have sent their own letters urging the Governor to fast-track vaccines for teachers.

In a letter sent last week, nearly three dozen Tampa Bay business executives including former Florida CFO Alex Sink, added their own two cents of encouragement.

“We strongly encourage you to prioritize the inoculation of K-12 teachers in the state vaccination plan. We believe that this decision will have a positive impact on the safety and in-person education of our children and will greatly enhance the effectiveness of our workforce,” the letter stated.

Still, the Governor isn’t budging.

According to spokesperson Meredith Beatrice, “seniors 65 and older account for over 80% of the morality rate and prioritizing seniors for the vaccine is one of the most effective tools we have to combat the pandemic.”

Beatrice added as soon as more supply becomes available, the state will quickly distribute to priority groups which also includes frontline healthcare workers.

“It’s unfortunate that our Governor hasn’t stepped up in the same way so many other Governors across the country have been honoring what the CDC has said to give educators access to that vaccine,” said Andre Spar, head of the state’s teacher’s union and vocal critic of how Governor DeSantis has handled the pandemic.

But in response, we’ve discovered a growing number of school districts are now partnering up with local health departments and hospitals to do it themselves.

Districts including Hillsborough County, Lee County, Orange County and Miami-Dade County along with others are working with health departments or hospitals to vaccinate school employees who are 65 and older and meet the state’s priority criteria.

In Seminole County, nearly 350 school district employees were inoculated with the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Wednesday. The local health department provided the vaccines, while the district used school nurses to administer the shots in a school cafeteria.

“It’s not mandatory, it’s completely optional,” said district spokesperson Michael Lawrence. “We’re just giving those employees an option to make it a little bit easier to get them the vaccine a little bit faster. Where it helps us is, it helps them get back to the workforce 100%.”

President Biden will also be encouraging states to move teachers up on lists of vaccination priorities. In Florida, both Governor DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran agree that until vaccine supply becomes more abundant, those under 65 will have to wait.