McMichael mask

Barrow County School System superintendent Chris McMichael is pictured wearing a mask, encouraging employees to get vaccinated when vaccines are available. 

The Barrow County School System’s 1,900 teachers, staff members and other employees are being given the option this week to pre-register to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as the district aims to be able to respond quickly once Georgia expands vaccine availability to teachers in general.

The option to pre-register, which includes full-time employees as well as contracted substitutes and custodians, runs through Thursday, Feb. 11, and is being coordinated with the Georgia Department of Public Health’s Northeast Georgia Health District, including to a school district news release.

Some school district employees may have already received or made an appointment outside of the district’s planning depending on their age or whether they are a primary caregiver for someone age 65 and older. School district spokesperson Shenley Rountree said Tuesday, Feb. 9, that the district was not tracking the number of employees who have already been vaccinated.

“Our vaccine distribution plan will depend on the number of vaccines available to school staff in Barrow County,” school district officials said. “Ideally, enough vaccine will be available at one time that will allow us to offer it to every pre-registered school staff member in the Barrow County School System. However, we have developed a contingency plan to prepare for various situations.”

Based on refrigeration requirements for the vaccines, the district plans to coordinate the distribution on one day between two to four sites and will notify employees of when and where they need to go to receive their first dose.

Officials said the district may schedule an online-only instructional day for all students during distribution of the first dose to employees and that additional online-only days may be scheduled for the second dose and/or to allow for teachers who get side effects from the vaccines to recover.

“Much like a ‘snow day,’ we may have little advanced notice of when the vaccines are available,” officials said. “We will alert families as soon as possible if arrangements need to be made for their children. …If possible, we will schedule vaccine distribution toward the end of the school week to reduce the number of digital learning days. Information will be provided to families once digital days are scheduled.”

Approval and availability of a third vaccine could also impact the district’s timeline, officials said.

According to the district’s latest weekly COVID-19 data report released Thursday, Feb. 4, 29 employees tested positive for COVID-19 from Jan. 28 through Feb. 3, seven were quarantined as a “probable” case and 44 more were quarantined due to having direct contact with someone with a positive or probable case. Thirty-two students tested positive, seven were quarantined as a probable case and 454 were quarantined due to exposure during the same timeframe.

In all, the district has had 247 employees and 285 students test positive since last summer prior to the start of the 2020-21 academic year. The district has reported 1,071 staff quarantines and 4,264 student quarantines.

Since the district opened to in-person instruction in mid-September, only one school facility has been shut down — Winder Elementary for a weeklong period in mid-December — due to a lack of staff available for in-person instruction.

“Ultimately, we are thankful for the vaccine's availability and for the teachers and staff who are electing to receive it,” officials said. “Vaccinated staff will help ensure our school buildings will remain open and students will keep learning.”

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