EVERETT — Local and state school leaders are calling on Gov. Jay Inslee to make all education staff eligible for the COVID vaccine in the next phase of its distribution.
Doing so would speed up the resumption of in-person learning, says a letter signed by superintendants of three of Snohomish County’s largest school districts. But public health officials say the state doesn’t have the supply of doses to expand who is eligible for a shot.
“You’re making the line longer, but you’re not actually helping people get the vaccine because there isn’t enough supply,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair Shah said during a Wednesday news conference. “We also want to continue to focus on those who we think are the most likely to be impacted by COVID disease, meaning the most vulnerable.”
The state’s vaccine distribution plan starts with health care workers, including those who do not have contact with known COVID patients, as well as residents and staff at long-term care homes.
Teachers and school staff over the age of 50 are included in the state’s Phase 1B, which could start in a few days, Michele Roberts, who leads the state’s vaccine distribution, said during the Wednesday news conference.
Phase 1B begins with people 70 and older, as well as adults 50 and up who live in multigenerational homes. Then qualifying school staff, among others, would be eligible.
After them, doses would go to people 16 and older with two or more underlying health conditions.
That approach is understandable, but neglects the mental health needs of the state’s students, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said in a Tuesday letter to Inslee and Shah.
“Tens of thousands of vaccines provided to people who will remain isolated at home will not optimize the many objectives of vaccination, including individual health, public health, and economic recovery,” Reykdal added.
According to the state’s timeline, teachers and school staff under age 50 wouldn’t be eligible for a vaccine until April.
But that could change.
Millions of doses previously reserved by the federal government are set to soon be released to states, the Trump administration announced Tuesday.
However, the state Department of Health hasn’t been told how many extra doses to expect, Dr. Shah said.
On Thursday, superintendents from the Everett, Edmonds and Mukilteo school districts sent the governor a letter echoing Reykdal’s request.
“Even with robust health and safety measures to minimize spread of the virus, many staff are understandably feeling nervous and some school staff will not return to school until they are vaccinated,” said the letter sent Thursday. “That will make staffing and reopening schools extremely difficult, if not impossible.”
For months, local and state health officials have said returning some students to school is safer than previously thought.
Statewide, COVID transmission in the classroom has been rare, health officials said.
Across Snohomish County, some school districts resumed in-person learning in the fall.
Arlington Public Schools, which has in-person learning for kindergarten and first grade, is set to bring second- and third-grade classes back under a hybrid learning model Tuesday.
The district has had one COVID exposure, which occurred in October, since resuming in-person learning, spokesperson Gary Sabol said. The Snohomish Health District did a walkthrough of the school and found the district was following all safety protocols, he said.
In Everett, Archbishop Murphy High School reopened for freshman cohorts in September, before bringing groups of sophomores back later. Administrators reported zero student exposures in the first semester.
On Jan. 4, the school brought all students back on a hybrid schedule.
However, reopening isn’t always a popular idea.
Leaders of the Monroe School District in November brought first-graders back for in-person learning, then canceled their return after two days of face-to-face instruction. Teachers opposed the move and parents were concerned about student safety.
Many teachers and some students stayed home those two days.