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Ohio Schools Prepare To Vaccinate Staff

Nick Hahn receives a vaccine during a live press conference. [The Ohio Channel]
Nick Hahn receives a vaccine during a live press conference. [The Ohio Channel]

Updated: 5:36 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021

About 500 Ohio schools will start vaccinating teachers and staff next week, Gov. Mike DeWine said during a Thursday press conference.

To get into the vaccine queue, schools had to agree to come back at least partially in person by March 1, he said, and all but one public district in the state has signed that agreement. 

"We have really left this up to schools. The idea is to get kids back in school,” DeWine said. “You can be five days a week or you can be hybrid. We'd like for them to be five days a week but we wanted to create some leeway for them to be able to do that.”

A spokesman for DeWine said Jefferson Township schools in Montgomery County, near Dayton, is the only district to not sign on to the plan.

For some districts, DeWine said the shots won’t change much because students are already back in the school building, either fully or part-time. Nearly 18 percent of students in Ohio are fully remote with less than 46 percent in person full time.

“I think that we’ve talked about this before, we’ve learned so much more as we’ve been through this school year,” he said, emphasizing that masks and social distancing have helped prevent community spread in schools.

All employees at the approved districts will be eligible for the vaccine, including teachers, bus drivers and custodians, but the shot won’t be required for adults to return to work in school buildings.

Every Ohio school employee who wants a vaccine should be able to get it, DeWine said, as long as they get it the week it becomes available at their location.

“It’s very, very important for them to get it within that window,” DeWine said.

But the short supplies that have plagued other parts of the vaccine rollout nationwide are still a problem for Ohio’s teaching staff. Akron Public Schools will receive 780 doses of COVID-19 vaccine sometime next week, according to an email from spokesman Mark Williamson sent during DeWine’s Thursday briefing.

“Our need is for 3,000 for each of two in the series of inoculations to be given. This falls roughly 2,200 short of what we need,” Williamson said in the email. “Our hope is more will be arriving shortly after the first delivery so we can get our teachers and staff inoculated as quickly as possible.”

The governor said the state does not yet know what the acceptance rate will be for people who are offered the vaccine within schools. DeWine and the Ohio Department of Health were taken somewhat by surprise when only about 45 percent of staff members in Ohio’s nursing homes and other congregate care facilities chose to get the vaccine earlier in the process.

School personnel will not go to the same sites as other Ohioans eligible for the vaccine. Some school staff will be able to get the vaccine at their schools, but some will have to go to an off-campus site.

DeWine said the main reason for prioritizing school personnel is the impact of mental health on kids who aren’t in school.

“We want kids back in school,” he said.

Lori Criss, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said anxiety, depression, and grief in students due to the change in routine, uncertainty during the pandemic, and canceled events like sports and social functions have been taking a negative toll on children for nearly a year at this point.

Criss said any parent or child experiencing acute mental health symptoms can call the Ohio Care Line at 1-800-720-9619.

Right now, other Ohioans who are eligible for the vaccine are frontline workers, people in congregate living facilities, and people over 75 years old. Next week, the state will start vaccinating people over 70, and the week after that, people over 65 will be eligible.

When asked about whether there will be enough supply for these groups to continue to receive the vaccine, DeWine said supply has been an issue from the beginning, and it’s why the state hasn’t opened up vaccination to more groups, like preschool teachers and other childcare providers.

Of the Ohioans who have died from COVID-19, 87 percent are older than 65, so the older population will continue to be a priority, he said.

DeWine said there has been a downward trend of COVID-19 patients in hospitals, and if the trend continues, he will consider making the state’s curfew midnight or eliminating it. Thursday, the curfew starts an hour later, at 11:00 p.m. for the first time since it was instated in mid-November.

At 74 years old, the governor himself will be eligible to get the vaccine next week, and said Thursday he intends to go through the same appointment process as all Ohioans.

“Well, I hope to [get vaccinated],” DeWine said. “Fran and I hope to. Our provider is Dr. Sherrick, who is with the Kettering Health Network, and that's where we'll be getting vaccinated. That's how we'll be doing it.”

DeWine also gave a quick preview of his upcoming budget proposal: “More focus on early childhood education, early childhood development, focusing on mental health, the addiction problem. We really looked at this as our year of recovery.”

ideastream's Glenn Forbes and Gayle S. Putrich contributed to this report.

lisa.ryan@ideastream.org | 216-916-6158