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Vast majority of Howard school staff, educators have received a COVID vaccine shot, county says

The vast majority of Howard County school system staff have received or will soon receive a COVID-19 vaccine shot, according to the county.

Approximately 90% of school system staff — including teachers, paraeducators, administrators, nurses, and food and nutrition staff — have received at least one dose of a vaccine or are scheduled to get their first shot.

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“Howard County has worked closely with the [school system] to ensure that our educators and school staff are prioritized as they head back to the classrooms,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a news release. “This vaccination effort is a monumental undertaking, and we’re proud of how quickly we have been able to get shots in arms.”

About 9,300 Howard County school system employees have requested the vaccine. When the district receives an additional 300 vaccine appointments with Johns Hopkins Medicine this week, that number could put the percentage closer to 95%, according to the release.

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School system spokesperson Brian Bassett said a little less than 5% of school system staff said they will not take the vaccine due to medical or other reasons. That means, by the end of this week, almost every district staff member who wants to get vaccinated will either have his or her first dose or will be scheduled to receive it.

“We remain committed to providing this lifesaving vaccine to all of the high-priority groups in our community so that we can safely return to school, return to work and return to normal,” Dr. Maura Rossman, the county’s health officer, said in a statement.

The system welcomed about 4,000 students and 80% of its staff back into school buildings on March 1 for the start of its hybrid learning schedule. The 4,000 students — or 7% of the system’s 57,000 enrollment — who are currently in buildings are part of the district’s five-day-a-week program for students who are most in need of in-person learning, such as students with individualized education plans.

On Monday, the system will start its phased-in hybrid model, with all students who want to partially be back in classrooms returning by April 12.

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“While the pandemic is far from over, the vaccine provides one layer of protection and we have made tremendous progress locally with vaccinations,” schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said in the release.

The system will begin reaching out to staff members individually who have not been vaccinated but want to receive a shot for health department clinic appointments. The district is also working to get vaccines for bus drivers and temporary support personnel who have not yet been vaccinated.

Earlier this week, Ball pushed for increased equitable access to the vaccine as the county’s health department announced plans to provide funding to organizations for vaccine outreach and accessibility.

As of Thursday afternoon, 42,994 — or 13.2% — Howard countians are fully vaccinated by either receiving both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Another roughly 33,000 Howard residents have received their first shot of one of the two-dose vaccines and are waiting for their second dose. Overall, 76,250 Howard countians — or 23.4% — have received a vaccine shot.

The next phase of the school system’s hybrid model starts Monday when pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first and second grade students return to school buildings. On March 29, students in grades 3 through 6, 9 and 12 will return, while students in grades 7, 8, 10 and 11 will come back April 12.

In total, about 52% of students opted to return to classrooms, while about 85% of staff are returning to buildings.

Hybrid students are placed on an A-day/B-day schedule, with one group learning in person on Mondays and Tuesdays and the other group on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will remain for self-guided instruction and homework, except for the five-day-a-week students. The virtual option will be similar to what students have received for the last six months except on a different schedule that will also accommodate the hybrid in-person students.

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