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How are local school districts' staff getting the vaccine?

When Gov. Ned Lamont announced Monday that school staff could get the COVID-19 vaccine at designated clinics in March, teachers and administrators had a lot of questions.

When and how could they start booking appointments? How could they be assured Connecticut would get enough doses for educators? How would districts avoid a situation where a lot of staff members are out sick at the same time due to side effects?

Following a week of surveys, meetings and conversations with community partners, local health districts provided more information Friday morning in an email to superintendents and child care providers: School staff in Ledge Light Health District's jurisdiction will be invited to clinics at Foxwoods Resort Casino, while those in Uncas Health District will be invited to clinics at Mohegan Sun.

Ledge Light covers East Lyme, Groton, Ledyard, Lyme, New London, North Stonington, Old Lyme, Stonington and Waterford. Uncas covers Bozrah, Franklin, Griswold, Lebanon, Lisbon, Montville, Norwich, Preston, Salem, Sprague and Voluntown.

Hartford HealthCare is running the vaccine clinics at Foxwoods, while Yale New Haven Health is running the ones at Mohegan Sun.

Steve Mansfield, director of Ledge Light Health District, said the vaccine supply for educators and child care providers will be a separate allocation from the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and their clinics won't be open to the general public.

The governor's office has set March 1 as the date when school employees can begin registering, with the goal of getting the first dose to interested educators by the end of March.

Mansfield and Patrick McCormack, director of Uncas Health District, both said Friday that clinic dates and times are still being finalized.

Hartford HealthCare and Yale New Haven Health utilize MyChart, an app that allows patients and providers to manage and receive health information, and the Friday email said a link will be provided to share with employees, so they can create a MyChart account and register for an appointment.

"Both health care groups said they would make appointments that are more flexible for teachers as well, so after-school hours or weekends," McCormack said.

He noted that schools historically don't provide vaccines, and that if clinics were to happen on-site in schools, everybody would be vaccinated in one day, which could pose an issue if lots of staff members are out sick the same day due to side effects. In addition, utilizing the two health care systems makes sense due to vaccine storage considerations, and both already being approved vaccine providers.

McCormack said educators can still use VAMS, the Vaccine Administration Management System, to independently find another clinic if they so choose.

Earlier last week, the local health districts surveyed superintendents about the number of employees eligible to be vaccinated in each district. Mansfield said there are about 6,000 in Ledge Light's jurisdiction, while McCormack's tally in Uncas Health District is 3,374.

Mansfield and McCormack touted the partnership between two health districts, two health care systems and two tribes.

Mansfield also said he's enthusiastic that Hartford HealthCare's role will allow Ledge Light "to focus on those populations that are typically underserved and the rest of the community that may not be able to get vaccinated so easily." Ledge Light will continue scheduling clinics for the rest of the community; as of Monday, anyone over 55 living or working in Connecticut will be eligible.

Local superintendents weigh in on vaccine process

Groton Superintendent Susan Austin said all active employees are loaded in VAMS, and they have the option to schedule through VAMS or other providers.

Austin said if getting vaccinated during the school day is the only option for a staff member, they could use their sick time, as they would for a doctor appointment, and follow the district's same communication protocols to notify the district of an absence ahead of time so the district can ensure a substitute is in place.

Austin said the teachers' union did a survey and found that about 90% of teachers said they intend to get vaccinated, while Norwich Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow said a survey showed that 85% of school staff plan to get the vaccine.

The vaccine is voluntary, and Stringfellow said the only change in protocol is that 14 days after getting the second dose, a staff member will be exempt from the requirement to quarantine if they come in close contact with a COVID-positive person.

Preston Superintendent Roy Seitsinger stressed that the vaccines are not mandatory, and there will be no consequences for staff who decide not to get vaccinated.

In a FAQ sent to school staff Friday, Stonington Superintendent Van Riley said staff members don't have to wait for direction from the district to make an appointment, that they're encouraged "to utilize all methods available to you to make a vaccine appointment starting March 1st" and that the dedicated clinics are "to simply make the vaccine more accessible to school employees."

"The registration process is still evolving. We will send out additional information about registering as soon as we receive it," the FAQ said. Staff members shouldn't expect to have an appointment scheduled on Monday.

East Lyme Superintendent Jeffrey Newton said the district will work collaboratively with Ledge Light to work around whatever schedule is set up. Newton agreed that "you can't have all of your staff on a school day heading off to go get vaccinated," adding that "if you vaccinate everybody all at once or the same time, people could become sick."

Lyme-Old Lyme Superintendent Ian Neviaser said teachers who get vaccinated during the day will use sick and/or personal time. The district hasn't surveyed school staff on whether they plan to get vaccinated, and he said deciding not to get vaccinated won't impact one's job.

Ledyard Superintendent Jay Hartling said he has been working with Ledge Light to communicate the most up-to-date information so school-based staff in the district know their eligibility and understand the options they have for scheduling vaccination appointments. He said a few district staff members already were eligible, being over age 65, and the variety of venues for scheduling those appointments has been a little daunting.

Plans to get school staff vaccinated vary throughout the state.

"In some cases, there will be clinics held at high school gyms, for example. In other cases, there are already places set up by the local departments of health," Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, told Fox 61.

The New Haven Register reported that the New Haven Health Department will hold mass vaccination clinics for school staff and day care providers at Career High School on March 20, 24 and 31, plus a clinic for First Student Bus Co. that is tentatively scheduled for March 10. The East Shore District Health Department will set up a clinic at Branford High School.

Lamont on Thursday visited Waterbury, which set up a hotline for school staff to schedule appointments. Mayor Neil O'Leary said the district will have a dedicated section for school staff at the mass vaccination site at Waterbury Arts Magnet School.

The Northeast District Department of Health is partnering with Day Kimball Healthcare, which is holding clinics at schools and has one planned for Woodstock Public Schools on Thursday, NBC Connecticut reported.

Day Staff Writers Claire Bessette, Kimberly Drelich, Taylor Hartz, Amanda Hutchinson and Joe Wojtas contributed to this report.

e.moser@theday.com

Who can get the shot

Eligible employees

Pre-K-12 teachers and substitute teachers

Paraprofessionals

Custodial staff

Food service providers

Bus drivers

School resource officers

Coaches

In-school administrative staff

Not eligible

Board of education members

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