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School district working to vaccinate thousands of employees

By Jeri Davis
Kristen McNeill

Washoe County School District Superintendent Kristen McNeill on Friday shared the district’s plan to vaccinate its employees to protect them from the COVID-19 virus.

A risk factor assessment was provided for all 8,000 school district employees to determine the order in which they’d be able to sign up to get vaccinated. It’s based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as district considerations, like how closely employees work with others and the number of people with whom they interact.

The school district has surveyed employees and found that 88% of them are interested in receiving the vaccine. It has also made clear that the vaccine is not mandatory and that it is not an employer vaccination program.

Tier 1 vaccinations for the district are already complete, and the district is moving on to tier 2.  The remainder of the employees placed in tier 2a will be vaccinated at the Reno Livestock Events Center on Monday.

From there, the district plans to set up vaccination points of distribution (PODs) at area schools with the help of local fire agencies. The vaccines will be administered inside of schools because the district is not able to set up drive-through locations like the one at the Livestock Events Center.

Each employee will have two vaccination appointments to ensure they get both doses of the vaccine, which are required for it to be effective.

Washoe County public health nurses prepare to administer the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
Washoe County public health nurses prepare to administer the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Image: Eric Marks

The Washoe County Health District is training school health staff and community volunteers to administer vaccines. The school district is working in conjunction with the Battle Born Medical Corps to ensure it has an adequate number of volunteers to administer them. The Battle Born Medical Corps was created by Governor Sisolak’s Emergency Directive 011 on April 1, 2020 and is intended to relieve anticipated burden placed on active health care personnel and facilities by COVID-19.

The first vaccination POD for the district will be held on Jan. 23 at North Valleys High School. It will be a smaller event during which training will also take place for volunteers.

Each consecutive Saturday thereafter, the school district will ramp up the number of PODs to three school locations at a time with employees traveling to whichever school they are assigned to receive their vaccinations. The hope is that 2,100 employees will be vaccinated during each of these Saturdays, but McNeill stressed that these plans will be contingent upon vaccine supply.

On Tuesday, Washoe County Manager Eric Brown told county commissioners that allocation of vaccines to Nevada has been inconsistent, making planning difficult. Gov. Steve Sisolak said as much that same day in his statewide update.

Vaccinating employees is a crucial part of the school district’s plan to make a return to in-person learning for its more than 60,000 students possible. Teachers and other school staff have been prioritized for vaccination in school districts around the country because they work with a subset of the population who are not eligible for vaccination, as neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine is approved for people under the age of 16.

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