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Sonoma County Office of Education could start COVID-19 vaccines for school employees Monday

School employee vaccine information

For updated COVID-19 related school resources, including vaccine schedules and information, check www.SCOE.org and follow the link to “Coronavirus Updates.”

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Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

The Sonoma County Office of Education is planning to vaccinate school employees, starting with those within the ranks who are 65 and older, in phases that could begin as soon as next Monday.

The plan, unveiled in a conference call with more than 100 county education officials representing educators from both public and private schools from the preschool level through Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, comes with a significant caveat: It all depends on the amount of vaccine allotted to the county Office of Education.

And that won’t be known until Thursday.

“The word of the day is flexibility,” said Jeff Harding, retired superintendent of the Healdsburg Unified School District, who has been hired by the Office of Education to work with county public health officials to vaccinate school staff. “Will we have vaccine doses to give out a week from today? We don’t know and we won’t know until Thursday, but I’m moving forward. I’m not waiting around. I’m going to assume I can and pull the plug if we can’t.”

Harding urged district leaders to organize their staffs according to a schedule put together by SCOE so that employees will know where they fall within the distribution plan as vaccines become available. If doses are made available to SCOE as expected, the first round of employees 65 and older could receive their shots at a clinic scheduled to be held at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park Monday.

School staff who qualify for vaccinations will be contacted by their district, not by SCOE, Harding said.

Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steve Herrington urged patience and reminded educators that any return to in-person instruction is not predicated on vaccines but upon coronavirus case rates in the county. Sonoma County, where campuses have been shuttered since mid-March, is still well above the threshold for allowing students and staff to return to in-person instruction.

The current standard to reopen transitional kindergarten through sixth grade classrooms is an average weekly case rate of 25 or fewer per 100,000 residents. For secondary grades, the state threshold is 7. Sonoma County’s case rate was 41.4 as of Monday.

The vaccine rollout across the state and county has been slow and confusing for many. Just over 1% of the county’s population has received two doses of vaccine.

After state officials on Jan. 13 amended the vaccine priority list to prioritize people 65 and older, county education officials were forced to recalibrate their distribution plans. The changes put approximately 1,100 teachers, custodians, aides and other school employees who are 65 and older, regardless of whether they expect to see students face-to-face, to the top of the list of approximately 16,500 school employees SCOE is preparing to inoculate.

It is not clear whether SCOE will be given the green light to move to the next tier of school staff one week after its 65 and older population is inoculated. The second group includes preschool and day care staff, elementary school employees and secondary employees who meet face-to-face with students.

“We think that it’s best that they start with the 65 or older — it’s about 1,100 people — then we’ll see where we are,“ said Dr. Sundari Mase, county public health officer. ”Then we will have further discussions with them as to whether they should go ahead.“

After staffers who work with the county’s youngest students, SCOE has scheduled secondary school staff and district office staff in the third tier, and staffers at SRJC and Sonoma State in the final group. Within those tiers, SCOE has grouped districts and individual schools into cohorts with a priority on those located in areas where the rates of virus transmission are highest, Harding said.

Among those in the first cohort are Windsor Unified, Cloverdale, Healdsburg, Roseland and Wright districts. The second cohort includes Santa Rosa City Schools, by far the largest district in the county, with about 1,600 staff. Sonoma Valley and Petaluma lead the third cohort and Cotati-Rohnert Park and West Sonoma County are in the fourth cohort.

SCOE has lined up 45 nurses to administrator the shots over the course of the program.

If there are no revisions to the current schedule, which Harding said changes almost daily, and SCOE is given its anticipated allotment of doses, the first group should get the second dose in the week of March 1-5. The final round of second shots, going to SRJC and SSU employees, would be administered May 3-7.

But Harding repeatedly described the schedule as a moving target because of the myriad unknowns about how much vaccine the county Office of Education will get and who within the education ranks will seek out inoculations through SCOE.

Distribution of the vaccine runs through the state. County officials don’t get word until Tuesday night detailing how much vaccine they will be allotted in the next batch, according to Dr. Urmila Shende, who is overseeing the county’s vaccination campaign.

Harding reminded educators that directives from the state are ever changing and urged them to remain flexible as the rollout gets underway.

“Your whole lives have been turned upside down but now we have light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “It’s going to take some time but we are heading in the right direction.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

School employee vaccine information

For updated COVID-19 related school resources, including vaccine schedules and information, check www.SCOE.org and follow the link to “Coronavirus Updates.”

____

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

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