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The Washoe County School District (WCSD) on Saturday morning operated the first of its planned Point of Distribution (POD) events to administer COVID-19 vaccinations to district employees—with a total of 350 people scheduled to receive the first of two doses of the vaccine.
The district’s goal is to get all 8,000 of its employees vaccinated in an effort to make in-person teaching and learning in schools safer. While receiving the vaccine is not a requirement of employment with WCSD, the district has said most of its employees want to be vaccinated.
Emily Ellison, WCSD chief human resources officer, said that through an interest survey the school district put out, about 88% percent of employees indicated their desire to receive the vaccine.
“Of the group we scheduled for today, our experience was that about 80% of the invitations that were sent out were actually acted upon in terms of scheduling,” she said.
“It’s just exciting today. And I’m ready. I’m ready to get the vaccine.”
According to Ellison, the district is aware that travelling to a POD to receive a vaccination may pose greater challenges for some employees than others. She said the district has plans in place to reach those employees for whom travel to a distant school site might be difficult.
“If an employee has a challenge with transportation or scheduling or whatever it might be, we have the option for them to follow up with district human resources staff, so we can work with their specific situation and figure out how best to get the vaccine into their arm,” Ellison said.
She added that she could feel the excitement at the day’s event.
“For many people, this is sort of a light at the end of the tunnel or symbol of hope that maybe things will get somewhat normal sooner than later,” Ellison said. “So, while there are certainly questions about what to expect or the process, I think, overall, people are just really excited and anxious to get things back to normal a little bit.”
Nailing down the logistics
Organizing for the event and planned future ones has required the help of school district employees, local fire agencies that provide a chain of command for vaccine ordering and distribution, and volunteers from the Battle Born Medical Corps created by Governor Steve Sisolak. It has also required the time and attention of WCSD Emergency Manager Roy Anderson.
“My department is charged with coordination with our local entities. So, for example, today we’re working with Truckee Meadows Fire,” Anderson said. “We develop the plan, write the plan and then train our staff to operate the plan. What we’ve been able to do is pull volunteers for leadership positions, where they’re running what we call the point of distribution or POD. They’re in charge of running the POD, and then we have volunteers from the district staff who are willing to facilitate.”
POD plans, Anderson explained, predate the COVID-19 pandemic. When the POD plans were first put in place, he said, they were centered around the possibility of an influenza pandemic “or anthrax, different things that we’ve seen before, like H1N1.”
“What’s nice about that is we’re able to just tweak those plans to fit the needs of this,” he said. “So, what is unique to the COVID vaccine would be that 15-minute waiting period afterward. We had to adjust our plan to accommodate that.”
The reason for a 15-minute waiting period following vaccination—which is 30 minutes for people with many known allergies—is to allow for time to see if recipients will have an allergic response to the vaccine. The WCSD is using the Moderna vaccine, which has been in the news in recent weeks as a result of a small number of people having allergic reactions to it. The waiting period to make sure people do not have an onset of allergic reactions is something recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Based upon the availability of vaccines, the school district intends to run three PODs every Saturday until it’s able to vaccinate all school district employees. Initially, the district thought it might be able to vaccinate up to 2,100 employees total across three POD sites during each of these events. The district has since scaled back this estimate to 1,200 per Saturday—400 at each of three locations.
Vaccine availability is still a concern, and Anderson said the school district will likely not know until the Tuesday before each planned Saturday vaccination event if supplies will be available to meet those numbers.
An exciting day
Amy Camacho was among the educators who showed up to receive their first dose of the vaccine. Camacho teaches fifth grade at Van Gorder Elementary School and is also a recipient of two organ transplants. She said she’s been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I’m very excited about today and getting vaccinated,” she said. “I’m excited for several different reasons. First and foremost, I’m a dual transplant recipient—and, when you get that gift of life, you take care of your organs in anyway you can. So, getting that vaccination is protecting the gift of life for me.”
Camacho added that there are multiple reasons, work related and otherwise, that have increased her desire to get the vaccine.
“Another reason is that I want to be with my family. I want to hug my family. We’ve missed Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, Christmas—all of the holidays,” she said. “And I’m a teacher. This year has been, as we all know, a little different. I’ve been doing DL [distance learning], which I give 110% to—and my kids are rock stars at it—but my goal is to be back in person with the kids. So, this vaccine is crucial to me. Being here, seeing this—it’s so organized. It’s just exciting today. And I’m ready. I’m ready to get the vaccine.”
Camacho said she knows that mitigation efforts like mask wearing and social distancing will remain in place, but she wants teachers—regardless of whether they have higher risk from the virus like herself—to embrace getting the vaccine.
“I think getting the vaccine puts us a step ahead. It puts us, again, in the classroom. I’m doing it for health reasons. But I think … ultimately, it just puts us a step ahead. … I think that when we all can get it, it will put us that step ahead and a step closer to being able to be with our students in person. We’ll be with them one-on-one and in small groups—and we can, again, just move forward and do the best learning and best teaching we can,” she said.
WCSD Superintendent Kristen McNeill was also at the event. She expressed her excitement for the start of the district-run PODs.
“You can tell from the room and the feel of the room just how excited people are,” she said. “I will tell you, it has been such a team effort—I mean, from the fire departments, from the health district to the county, the City of Reno, the City of Sparks. We are all in this together. And it took all hands on deck to get us to this point—and the importance of making sure education, K-12, is in the front of this line.”