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Ohio Schools Prepare To Vaccinate Staff

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

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," DeWine said. "The idea is to get kids back in school."

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.

“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.

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.

“We’re trying to get this easy for school staff to be able to do this,” DeWine said.

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.

This is a devlelpoing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

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