RICHMOND, Va - Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) said Wednesday that vaccinating teachers in the Commonwealth is a priority but not a requirement to reopen school buildings to in-person learning.
“While we want our teachers to all be vaccinated, while we want the staff to be vaccinated, that’s not what opening our schools, or getting our children back into the classroom, is totally dependent on,” Northam said during a news conference Wednesday.
Several weeks ago, the Virginia Department of Education released new guidelines for opening school buildings to students with virus mitigation strategies as a key focus. Northam said at the time the preference for Virginia moving forward is to open school buildings, not keep them closed.
Still, teachers' groups in Virginia and across the country have pushed back on reopening before vaccinating educators. The Virginia Educators Association urged Virginia to get all school staff vaccinated before moving away from a mostly virtual model.
“We feel like someone is asking us to walk into a burning building and we don’t feel safe doing our jobs,” a Chesterfield educator, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told WTVR CBS 6 earlier this week. “We feel undervalued. We feel like we aren’t being considered as important people in this equation.”
In an article published this week, a study of local school districts across the country by a group of CDC researchers found that although there is a risk of virus transmission, school districts that maintain proper masking and social distancing policies saw very little spread of COVID-19 within school environments.
“We have looked at the data very carefully, our schools are able to follow our mitigating measures, and schools are actually a fairly safe place for our children, that’s become more clear every day,” Northam said.
Many Chesterfield County elementary school students are set to return to school buildings Monday, despite concern from teachers and families about safety policies in place. The school district announced Wednesday they were given more vaccine doses than expected and plan to administer them to all elementary-level staff who expressed interest.
“The school division received 1,290 COVID vaccine doses earlier this week, and expects to receive 1,230 of the 1,500 doses being provided to Chesterfield County next week. With students in Cohort Nos. 2-3 returning to school next Monday, staff members at these schools will be prioritized with the latest deliveries of the vaccine. We will begin administering shots tomorrow,” Chesterfield Superintendent Dr. Merv Daugherty wrote in a letter to staff members.
Northam said the state plans to allow each school district to make their own decisions on whether to reopen buildings, remain virtual, or pursue a hybrid learning model.
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.
- Avoid non-essential travel.