COVID Update: Educators prioritized for vaccinations, testing thanks to UEA
UEA Efforts Move Educators Up the Vaccination Priority List
Gov. Gary Herbert announced on Dec. 7 that public school educators will be prioritized in Phase One of Utah’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution timeline. This means teachers who want to receive immunizations may begin receiving the vaccine as early as late December or January. The exact timing will depend on availability of vaccine and logistics.
UEA President Heidi Matthews issued the following statement: "The Utah Education Association expresses appreciation to Governor Gary Herbert and the Utah Department of Health for prioritizing public school educators in the state’s proposed COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan. Teachers and school staff risk their health each day by being in school face-to-face with students. It is critical those dedicated public school employees who elect to receive the vaccine, many of whom are at-risk themselves, have convenient access as soon as feasibly possible.”
The previous draft timeline called for teacher immunizations in Phase Three, March-July 2021. The new plan includes all school staff in Phase One. This announcement comes after weeks of discussion and several meetings of the Strategic Vaccination Coalition, where educators were represented by Matthews and UEA Director of Education Excellence and Government Relations Sara Jones.
“We lobbied hard to move teachers up the priority list and for ALL school employees to be included. Our voices were heard and respected,” said Matthews.
This prioritization applies to all school employees who elect to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
COVID Testing Now Available for All Educators
The UEA advocated very strongly over several weeks for educators staffing schools to be at the front of the line for testing and that it must be convenient and easily accessible for those educators who want it. Those efforts paid off. As of the end of November, rapid COVID-19 testing was made available to all school districts. Each school district determines how testing occurs and who has access, but the intention of the Governor’s office is for these rapid tests to be readily available for all educators who want them.
If you are aware of any problems with educators having access to COVID testing in your district, please notify the UEA using the comment section of the UEA COVID-19 School Issue Reporting Form so we can report that information back to state leaders.
Proposed Changes to School Quarantine and Contact Tracing
The UEA has been in close contact in recent days with the governor’s office regarding proposed changes to the Utah COVID-19 School Manual. Specifically, the changes would ease some school quarantine recommendations and reduce contact tracing requirements.
In meetings with representatives from the governor’s office and again in a letter to Governor Herbert dated Dec. 7, the UEA raised the following concerns:
- The impact of the proposed changes on school safety is unknown
- There does not appear to be data supporting the change, and
- A change to quarantine guidelines that appears to decrease the safety of those in schools will increase the anxiety of already-stressed educators, as well as potentially increase the number of school employees at risk of COVID-19 infection.
The UEA continues to advocate for local school districts and health officials, in conjunction with teachers through their local education association, to have the flexibility to implement these recommendations to fit local needs.