COVID-19 vaccine appointments open up for local K-12 teachers, staff

Stock image | Photo by Foremniakowski/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Teachers, administration and other staff at K-12 schools in Southern Utah can now fill out a vaccination card, as opposed to a report card.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine stored in a refrigerator at Riverton Hospital in Riverton, Utah, in late-December 2020. | File photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

While not announced officially, St. George News has learned that the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is immediately making COVID-19 vaccination appointments available.

An e-mail went out to high-risk teachers and staff in the Washington County School District Thursday and additional e-mails will be going out throughout the next two days according to Steve Dunham, spokesperson for the Washington County School District. 

We feel like this is great. We are moving forward,” Dunham said. 

None of the local school districts are making receiving the vaccine mandatory.

To get the vaccine, teachers and staff in all local school districts, as well as private and charter schools, need to go to an online reservation page and pick a time slot available in their county. This has been the procedure in the last week for non-hospital health care workers and first responders and will be the way most people in Southern Utah will be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

Links for teachers, non-hospital medical workers and first responders to set an appointment for their vaccine can be found at the end of this article. 

For school teachers and staff, finding a good time to get the vaccine may be a logistical issue considering school hours. The health district has added additional dates and times for appointments in the last 24 hours, but most of the slots are still mostly during school hours, and the teachers are also competing with first responders and non-hospital medical workers for the slots.

“We were initially told that appointment times would be between eight and four, which created some concerns given our school hours and the fact that many teachers will be driving long distances to travel to the health department,” Amy Barton, president of the Washington County Education Association that represents teachers, said. “When I went to schedule my own appointment this morning, I was dismayed to see that the times were even more limited.”

Two of the COVID-19 vaccines are seen at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on Dec. 16, 2020. | File photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare

In Washington County, vaccination slots are available next Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.. All of Monday slots were already filled as of noon Thursday and the remaining days had nearly all slots from 3-4 p.m.

The situation is similar in Iron County, where vaccination reservations slots are available Monday and Tuesday and most slots after 3 p.m. are not available.

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said school staff and teachers will still have access to vaccine clinics in the next couple of weeks as the health department aims to get anybody vaccinated who wants it. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to get away during the day to get vaccinated.”

As far as Washington County is concerned, St. George News has learned that at this point, staff members are being allowed to leave work during school hours if they have the permission of their principal to get their vaccine.

However, Barton said even if they’re cleared to get the vaccine during school hours, it’s not easy to just leave. “For classroom teachers, it’s very difficult if not impossible to just pop out for an hour to go to an appointment. I’m definitely concerned that the limited appointment availability will impede the efficiency with which school employees are able to be vaccinated.”

The Washington County district has been preparing for the last month for the vaccine rollout, though the work of administering the vaccines will actually be done by the local health district. In anticipation, the school district conducted a survey of staff just before the holiday break as to their willingness to get the vaccine.

Students at Diamond Valley Elementary space themselves out before school, Diamond Valley, Utah, Aug. 13, 2020 | File photo courtesy of Annette Graf, St. George News

He said the results were 46% of teachers and school staff said “yes,” 25% said “maybe” and 28% said “no.”

Since then, however, Dunham said they have heard from some of those who responded no that they were having second thoughts.

“We had an employee who said no because they said they already had COVID,” Dunham said. “They talked to their doctor and changed their mind

Medical experts have said that even those who have had COVID-19 should be vaccinated as studies have shown the immunity from the virus is much stronger for those with the vaccine than those without.

In fact, a new study by the Centers for Disease Control released on Thursday said a person infected with COVID-19 can have as little as 90 days of immunity after having the virus to as much as eight months. The same study indicated the larger amount of antibodies created by the vaccine may create an immunity that lasts for at least a few years.

Another factor for teachers specifically, as far as the vaccine is concerned, is as of the first of the year they have to use their own paid sick time if they have to miss work because of COVID-19.

Until now, missed time because of COVID-19 or quarantine was paid for separately outside of normal sick time and pay.

School districts, including Washington County, are not responsible for the decision, Dunham said, after CARES funds ran out at the end of 2020.

COVID sick time was provided by the federal government and they chose not to extend it in the last stimulus,” Dunham said. “This was not a choice by the school district.”

Barton said she has heard from several teachers concerned about needing to use sick time if they are infected with COVID-19. She said it is especially a problem for newer teachers who may have already used up their more limited sick time.

“We don’t want to disincentivize those who need to quarantine from doing so because they are worried about finances,” Barton said. “We certainly would not want to end up in a position where employees came to school either asymptomatic or even with symptoms of this virus because they could not afford to stay home.”

Barton said this will be an even bigger issue for part-time workers in the district like bus drivers and cafeteria workers, who may not have paid sick time at all.

This might not be an issue for teachers and staff that get their first and second shot of the vaccine in the next month and become immune to the virus, but there remains the up to 28% of staff in the district who indicated they do not want to receive the vaccine.

As for Washington County employees, Dunham said he couldn’t speculate as to whether that creates any pressure for those skeptical of getting vaccinated to receive it.

“I would have to speculate and honestly don’t know,” Dunham said. “There’s a percentage of our community that may not have a good feeling about vaccines and that’s OK.”

Post-holiday surge continues beginning stages

On Thursday, Southern Utah saw its fourth-worst day of the pandemic for new infections since March with 334 new infections, according to the Utah Department of Health. Locals hospitalized for the virus remained at 69 and there were four deaths announced Thursday, including that of a 25-44 year old Iron County female who died at home.

Graphic showing 10 days with the most coronavirus cases in Southern Utah through Jan. 7, 2021. | Background photo by by
mbz-photodesign, iStock/Getty Images Plus; Infographic by Chris Reed, St. George News | Click to enlarge

For the first time, Iron County exceeded 100 new infections in one day this week with 101 on Wednesday.

Dr. Eddie Stenejhem, an infectious diseases specialist at Intermountain Healthcare, said he has no doubt the post-holiday surge has started. If there was any doubt, he said the ways new patients said they got the virus removes that.

“We had someone who came in who said, ‘Yeah, I had a holiday gathering …. A couple of days later, somebody got sick,” Stenehjem said, adding that even with the record number of hospitalizations this week from COVID-19, the full blunt of holiday surge hospitalizations is still to come.

“This surge will continue, and we’ll start seeing more and more cases which will lead to more hospitalizations and it will eventually lead to more deaths.”

Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

  • Those who can currently get the vaccine: K-12 teachers and staff, those that work in non-hospital health care facilities (those in clinics, pharmacies, dentists or other medical offices); First responders including law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time. Walk-ins will not be accepted.
  • Must have a personal ID, employment ID and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Vaccines through the Southwest Utah Public Health Department are free of charge.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S 400 East, 2nd Floor Conference Room, St. George, 84770.

When: Monday Jan. 11 to Thursday Jan. 14, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Click to register (Monday is full)

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

When: Monday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Click to register

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab 84741.

When: Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Click to register

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St. Panguitch 84759.

When: Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Click to register

Beaver County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Beaver Office,  75 1175 North, Beaver 84713.

When: Tuesday 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Click to register

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Jan. 7, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 20,671 (235.3 new infections per day in seven days, rising since Jan. 6)

County-by-county numbers are one day behind.

  • Washington County: 15,725 (176.3 per day, rising)
  • Iron County: 3,486 (45.6 per day, rising)
  • Kane County: 348 (2.4 per day, rising)
  • Garfield County: 342 (4.9 per day, steady)
  • Beaver County: 436 (5.9 per day, falling)

New infections for major Southern Utah cities (numbers released ahead of Southern Utah numbers):

  • St. George: 125 (falling)
  • Washington City: 32 (falling)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 22 (falling)
  • Ivins City/Santa Clara: 21 (rising)
  • Cedar City: 98 (rising)

Deaths: 154 (2.4 per day, rising)

  • Washington County: 127 (3 new since Jan. 6 report: Hospitalized male 65-64, long-term care female, male over 85 at home)
  • Iron County: 16 (1 new: Female 25-44 at home) 
  • Garfield County: 7 
  • Kane County: 2
  • Beaver County: 2

Hospitalized: 69 (steady)

Active cases: 8,343 (rising)

Current Utah seven-day average: 2,952 (falling)

Vaccines shipped to  Southern Utah: 13,125 (+1,950)

Number of initial vaccine injections in Southern Utah: 4,010 (+1,189)

Number of fully vaccinated in Southern Utah: 22 (+22)

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

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