Educators and other St. Mary’s public school employees have the opportunity starting this week to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
After Superintendent Scott Smith received the COVID-19 vaccine during this week’s school board meeting Wednesday morning, along with several other school staff, he outlined a plan to vaccinate nearly 2,000 more employees after the weekend is over.
He said locally the positivity rate is about 20%, meaning that one in every five people tested in the county comes back positive, which is causing a “pretty dramatic community spread.”
“Last week we had 433 confirmed cases ... that is very sobering and bleak data,” he said. “We are now in vaccination time.”
When looking at a phased approach for returning students to public schools in St. Mary’s County, he said it’s important to look at the staff required for those phases. “As many as 3,000 people are involved in the education of kids and may be exposed to children,” Smith mentioned.
“We sent out a survey at the end of last week asking who would be interested in getting the vaccine,” with 65% of staff members responding to it, the superintendent said. About 72% of them said they’d be interested in getting vaccine, with 18% wanting more information and less than 9% saying no.
“Here’s the great news,” Smith said. “We have been able to coordinate with the health department who has moved through all of [Phase] 1a. We have been able to coordinate and schedule vaccinations for each one of those cohort groups.”
He said during Wednesday’s meeting that the following day, Jan. 14, all of staff in Phase 1 of reopening, which includes teachers, bus drivers, nurses and food service workers, will have the opportunity to voluntarily get vaccinated. “Hundreds and hundreds of staff members are registered,  to 600 at least.”
He said Phase 2 staff, such as more teachers, support staff, administrators, psychologists and safety and security personnel, will have their turn to get vaccinated on on Jan. 15. As of noon Tuesday about 800 employees had signed up.
Phase 3 and 4, to include more support staff, operations staff, maintenance and information technology, will go on Saturday, Jan. 16.
“If all goes to plan … by the end of the day on Saturday we will have had the opportunity for every person employed by SMCPS to schedule a vaccination,” Smith claimed, recommending citizens who want more information should check out last week’s board of health discussion at the county commissioners’ meeting.
Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for St. Mary’s who was present to provide the vaccinations at Wednesday’s meeting, explained St. Mary’s County is preparing to vaccinate the Phase 1b population, to include senior living communities, group homes, residential recovery programs, those 75 years of age or older and school staff.
“We’ve been blessed to have a good working partnership with the school system. … We’re moving along at a brisk pace,” she said, mentioning this weekend the department will be using the Pfizer vaccine.
Brewster mentioned people must be registered in advance to receive a vaccination so the health department knows how many doses of the medication to thaw out each day. She said this weekend it’s important people do not arrive early, as it will cause a burden on traffic management.
While the vaccinations are being distributed via a drive-thru mechanism, she noted citizens will be asked to wait 15 minutes in a separate parking lot to be monitored for symptoms as well as schedule when they will receive their second dose.
“The process is working” she said, but pointed out they’ll have experienced their greatest volumes at the vaccination site this week.
Rita Weaver, school board member, inquired whether vaccinated individuals can still get the virus, although they may experience less severe or no symptoms.
The health officer responded that after two doses of the vaccine, there is usually a 95% chance of preventing severe infection and symptomatic infection, but they do not know its impacts on asymptomatic infection yet. She noted it’s imperative citizens continue wearing masks after vaccination, especially in indoor settings, as well as washing hands regularly.
So far, more than 3,300 St. Mary’s County residents have been vaccinated, she said.