SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- During Thursday’s county press conference, San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher said he’s optimistic the county will move into the next tier in the next two to three weeks, meaning teachers, law enforcement and food/agriculture workers will be eligible for vaccinations.
Currently, healthcare workers and people older than 65 are the focus, but he said when there is not as high of a demand for appointments for the older population, that will be the county’s indication that it’s time to move on to the next tier. Fletcher says this will depend on how many doses the county gets.
Chair Fletcher said that once the next tier becomes eligible, he anticipates difficulty in booking appointments will begin again.
“Understanding the minute we do that there will be a severe shortage of appointments because again you’re injecting a large number of folks into a system that has limited supply,” said Fletcher.
Schools are already preparing for the next steps.
During the press conference, Chair Fletcher said the plan is to have job-specific vaccination sites. San Diego Unified School Board President Richard Barrera said they’ll likely put each district in charge of their own vaccination sites, organizing the logistics on their own.
Barrera said the news that educators will be next is a big step toward getting students back to in-person learning. The two biggest factors in keeping the momentum going will be making sure staff gets vaccinated in the next few weeks and also keeping cases on the decline.
Barrera added that when determining which staff needs to be vaccinated first, schools will look at which students need to come on campus first, then determine which staff are necessary to support those students. This could include teachers, aides, janitorial staff or food workers. He said there is about 15,000 staff with SDUSD, and they’ll need to get 5,000 to 10,000 vaccinated in order to have the largest number of students move back on campus.
For teachers, the vaccine timeline is a light at the end of the tunnel, but they know there is still work to be done.
Casey Hickenbottom teaches fifth grade at Johnson Elementary and said vaccines for staff are a start, but worries about other factors at play for his school. Hickenbottom said the families of students who attend his City Heights school have been hit hard by COVID-19, and worries that transitioning back to the classroom will be difficult. He wants to make sure there are still safety precautions being taken, like social distancing and mask-wearing.
Hickenbottom also wants people to realize that just because vaccinations might start in a few weeks, it doesn’t mean it will be an overnight solution.
“It takes six to eight weeks to be cleared to go back in really to be safe, that’s going to push us really close to the end of the school year really,” said Hickenbottom.
If educators do start getting vaccinated in the next couple of weeks, Barrera said he could see students moving on campus after spring break (with online education continuing for families who opt for it). He said he feels confident that an in-person extended summer program and the fall term will be possible.
Michael Godebu is a math teacher at Earl Warren Middle School in Solana Beach. He echoes Hickenbottom’s thoughts regarding the slow process, adding that he wants to make sure it’s done the right way.
“Our concern as teachers is we just want to be safe. We want ourselves and our families to be safe. We also don’t want the virus to spread to our kids and their families, so safety is our number one priority,” said Godebu.
Both teachers said they look forward to returning to normal as quickly as possible, as long as it is done as safely as possible.
“We all want the same thing, we all want to return to normal,” said Godebu.
Kisha Borden, President of the San Diego Education Association, released a written statement that reads:
“Educators are thrilled to hear that Supervisor Fletcher believes that vaccine appointments could be open to school employees in the next two to three weeks. We also appreciate his acknowledgement that although appointments may start being available, there will be an initial backlog in available appointments as more people rush to receive a vaccine. We’re hopeful that by working together we can quickly get educators both doses and allow for peak immunity to be met.
“We also don’t want to lose sight of the need to ensure that our classrooms are safe for students and their families, and the continued need to follow state and county guidelines to reduce case rates to a level that is no longer in the purple tier. Educators are hopeful that vaccines, a lower community spread and mitigation measures at our schools will allow San Diego Unified to offer further in-person learning opportunities for our students.”