Good news for teachers and others working in and around schools led off Governor Jared Polis's January 29 press conference about COVID-19 in the state. Educators had been told they'd have to wait until at least March 1 before they would be authorized to receive vaccinations against the novel coronavirus. But Polis revealed that the date has been moved forward almost a month, to February 8, when individuals age 65-69 will also be eligible for inoculations.
Polis, joined at the briefing by Brigadier General Scott Sherman of the Colorado National Guard, who's helping to coordinate vaccine distribution, and Scott Bookman, incident commander for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, emphasized that classroom instructors won't be the only school personnel to qualify under this next phase. Everyone in support roles at a school or educational facility, including bus drivers, secretaries and more, will be able to join the line — and child-care workers are part of the package, too.
According to Polis, this shift was made possible by some changes related to how the administration of President Joe Biden is handling vaccines. First, the federal government is upping the supply to states by approximately 16 percent in February. In addition, the feds are providing information about supplies for the next three weeks in advance, as opposed to a week or less under former president Donald Trump. And next week, there'll be a onetime bonus: CVS and Walgreens, which partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to vaccinate residents of nursing homes and other health-care facilities focusing on seniors, returned a cache of vaccine that wasn't needed to be used for other Coloradans.
In all, Sherman estimated, Colorado will receive at least 452,000 doses by March 1 — an amount that officials believe will allow them to reach their goal of vaccinating 70 percent of individuals age seventy and above (the 562,000 people in Phase 1B-1), even as the state expands access to educators and the 65-69 crowd.
Polis is hoping to vaccinate at least 55 percent of the new additions to the group now being referred to as phase 1B-2 by March 5, and perhaps sooner — again, depending on supply. Phase 1B-2 is calculated at around 408,000 people, while phase 1B-3 — essential and front-line workers, plus anyone between ages sixteen and 64 with at least two health conditions that increase their risk from COVID-19 — is even larger: 1.15 million.
As a result, vaccinating everyone in phase 1B-3, which is expected to get under way in early March, could take a couple of months. After that will come phase 2 — people age sixty and older — followed by phase 3, the general public, which is expected to begin by late spring or early summer.
All of this is subject to change based on supply, Polis stressed. He also defended moving educators ahead of other essential workers by talking about the ripple effect on other employees. If schools are limited to remote learning, he said, many people who must physically show up for work have been forced to leave their jobs in order to oversee kids at home. In his view, then, preventing school closures helps them as much as it does instructors and ancillary school staffers.
So many changes were announced that some confusion is inevitable. Bookman tried to provide guidance by telling educators and front-line workers that they should coordinate vaccinations with their employers rather than with health-care systems, as seniors are currently doing. But for Polis, the most important thing is saving lives and ending the pandemic as soon as possible.
"Colorado, this is the next big step," he said.
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