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Survey: Almost 90% of Howard County school system staff intend to take COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available

Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano said Monday that a survey revealed 88% of school system staff intend to take the COVID-19 vaccine once it is offered.

Martirano announced the results of the survey during a joint meeting between the Board of Education and the County Council on Monday morning to discuss health metrics amid the school system’s search to get students back into classrooms.

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“That is higher than many other districts right now,” Martirano said as council and board members cheered during the virtual meeting. “The highest that was reported to me on Friday in other counties was 75%, and we’re at almost 90%. I’m going to do everything I can to educate and encourage our staff.”

The quick survey, according to school system spokesperson Brian Bassett, asked all school system staff, including teachers, administrators and support personnel, one question: “Do you intend to take the vaccine when it is available?” Almost 7,200 of the system’s 10,750 employees had responded to the survey as of Monday morning.

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The high percentage in the survey could mean progress toward students returning to classrooms for a hybrid model in April. The school system has been in virtual learning since last April after schools were closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

County teachers could begin getting vaccinated in February, with a few weeks between the two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Moderna vaccine.

“I will be willing to take the vaccine in public to show the confidence in it,” Martirano said. “I am ready to go right now. We need to continue to educate our community on this.”

At a news conference last week, Howard County Health Officer Maura Rossman said the county’s health department has administered more than 2,600 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said that by Tuesday 100% of the department’s current allocation will be administered.

The county is currently in Phase 1A of distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, which includes inoculating the 5,000 to 7,000 people who fall into that category including licensed health care providers, first responders, nursing home residents and staff, and correctional health care staff and officers. Phase 1B includes approximately 30,000 to 35,000 people, including teachers, child care professionals, congregate living facilities and those older than 75. Ball estimates this phase will be completed by early March.

Also last week, Martirano laid out the district’s potential plan to gradually ease students back into classrooms over the next four months. Limited in-person small group support that was being provided in the fall — before the spike in coronavirus numbers in November and December — is scheduled to restart Feb. 1. Then, in mid-April, the rolling out of a hybrid model for the general student population could begin, subject to school board approval.

However, Martirano repeated multiple times last week that any students and staff being sent back to the classroom — whether for small group programs or for a hybrid model in April — is dependent on the improvement of the county’s health metrics.

To return to a hybrid learning model, according to the chart the board approved in October, the weekly positivity rate should be below 5.01% and the weekly case rate below 10 per 100,000. To return to small group programs, the weekly positivity rate must be below 5.14% and the weekly case rate below 20 per 100,000.

Howard’s improved metrics must be at or below these levels for two consecutive weeks to allow a return to small group support or the start of a hybrid model. Therefore, to start small group learning Feb. 1, the metrics would have to remain under those levels from Jan. 18 through Feb. 1.

The county’s weekly positivity rate — which measures the percent at which tests return positive over a week — is 7.8% as of Monday. The weekly new-case rate is at a record 46.6 per 100,000 residents, according to Maryland Department of Health data. Both metrics are much higher than the levels determined by the board for a safe return.

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