Standing across from the entrance to the boys’ locker room, four doctors carefully filled syringes from small bottles of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. They tapped the syringes with pens to release air bubbles before a runner delivered the shots to coolers on the tables running through the middle of the basketball court.
On March 10, all CCSD staff had the option to receive their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine at Cedar Shoals High School or Clarke Central High School. Roughly 1,500 faculty were vaccinated between the two sites. On Wednesday, March 31, they will get their second dose. By mid-April all staff who opted to get vaccinated will reach maximum protection against the virus.
“A lot of time, effort and energy has gone into planning this out. We had walkthrough meetings, and we had an opportunity to get everybody from district level, DPH (Department of Public Health), everybody on the same page,” Cedar Shoals Principal Antonio Derricotte said after receiving his vaccination at the Cedar site. “So far everything has been great.”
Educators and staff in pre-K through 12th grade schools and early education centers in Georgia became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine March 8 after Gov. Kemp expanded the 1A+ phase of statewide vaccination.
CCSD Director of Nursing Amy Roark worked with a medical partnership between physicians at Augusta University and the University of Georgia to begin planning districtwide vaccination in late Jan. 2021. Via a Google form survey, Roark and her team determined how many vaccines were needed and established a schedule with time slots for each vaccine request.
“We didn’t know when the state of Georgia was going to transition to allowing access to teachers, but we wanted to make sure that the day that that happened we had a plan in place ready to roll out. So we did all of this planning on the front end,” Roark said.
CCSD Human Resources Investigator Meridyth Padgett helped to manually schedule staff members through email and text.
“I don’t think a lot of people realized that (the survey) really got them their shot,” Padgett said. “We scheduled pretty much around the clock, about 12 hours a day through Monday at 2 p.m., when we reached the quota for the health department.”
Once teachers and school staff were cleared to receive the vaccine, the Athens DPH set aside doses for schools, according to DPH site coordinator Patrick Reilly. The Athens branch of DPH also supplies vaccine to health departments and vaccination sites in the 10-county Northeast Health District.
“I’m just making sure that everything is up and running, getting here in the morning, making sure everything’s where it should be, monitoring the flow, finding any kind of choke points and solving those issues, and then bringing the vaccine,” Reilly said at the event.
Upon arrival at the Cedar Shoals vaccination site, staff signed in at the entrance to the gym. They entered through the right entrance, applied hand sanitizer and lined up in front of their assigned lanes.
Once the lane was clear, they received their shot. 27 UGA medical students administered shots and monitored staff after receiving their vaccinations, according to Padgett.
After the shot, employees waited 15 minutes in case of allergic reactions. They exited the left doors with a sticker and instructions to arrive at the same place and time on March 31.
“Having our teachers vaccinated helps them to feel safer in the buildings. I think it helps parents and students feel safer. It just provides the coverage that’s needed for us to continue our return back to face to face,” CCSD superintendent Dr. Xernona Thomas said. She received her vaccine at the Cedar site.
CCSD high school employees returned to work in person with students March 15 using a hybrid cohort model for high schools. Students are set to return to school in person five days a week starting April 12.
Recipients of the vaccine will develop some protection 10-14 days after their first dose. They will not be fully immunized until seven days after the second dose, April 7. In addition to vaccination, schools are maintaining other COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“We started even before the vaccine, taking really strong mitigation measures and we had safe practices in place. We’re reminding our staff and our students about social distancing, wearing their masks, washing their hands,” Dr. Thomas said. “I’m not concerned, because I trust that our folks are going to be socially responsible.”
As of March 30, 23.1% of Georgians received at least their first dose of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. Out of the United States population, 29% received at least the first dose. On March 25, all Georgians aged 16 or older became eligible for vaccination.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. are effective in preventing COVID-19, as shown by clinical studies and ongoing vaccine distribution. Still, the CDC recommends fully vaccinated people continue wearing masks, maintaining six foot distance and avoiding crowded or poorly ventilated spaces.
“I still have to be careful, but I don’t have to be so cautious. I get to be around the kids without worrying so bad,” Cedar Shoals security officer Aziz Harris said. “I love the kids. I know we have to stay at a distance, but I don’t want to feel like I can’t really conversate with them and be around them.”
Sandra Cooper, the zone three supervisor of the Operations and Custodial Services Department, received her vaccine at the Clarke Central site. Since schools closed in March of 2020, Cooper has visited schools regularly. She says the district has provided support in the forms of personal protective equipment and safety education throughout the pandemic.
“I can’t wait to get it,” Cooper said. “I’ll feel safer, because I have to go to every school in the district.”
At the time of her vaccination, Cedar Shoals English teacher Hannah Doolittle was preparing to teach her own class in person for the first time.
Before classes changed to the hybrid model, she used two computers to teach online. Doolittle is now incorporating a third computer to keep class moving smoothly for students at home and on campus. She attended meetings to train for teaching both groups of students simultaneously.
“I don’t know if I’m freaked out because it’s like ‘Oh my God, COVID,’ or if I’m freaked out because I’m still a first year teacher. I’ve never actually had students in my room as a certified first year teacher. There are nerves there,” Doolittle said.
In addition to the full return to school, the senior prom is set to take place on April 17 with graduation on May 21. Both events will be held on campus.
“I think this (vaccination) will go a long way to help ease the minds and anxieties of a lot of people and give them a sense of reassurance,” Derricotte said.