As of this past Monday, K-12 teachers in every state are now eligible for vaccination. Teachers were already prioritized in most of the country, but Biden directed the remaining states to adjust their priority lists last week. The federal government also pulled teachers into the federal pharmacy program, previously used for long-term care facilities.
This is great news, of course—teachers should get vaccinated ASAP so that they can safely return to their classrooms, allowing schools to reopen in person with much lower risk. Vaccinations have become a stipulation for reopening, in fact, in some states like Oregon, even though the CDC has said this should not be a requirement.
But there’s one big problem: we have no idea how many teachers have actually been inoculated. Sarah wrote about why we need occupational data on vaccinations a few weeks ago:
For example, NYC has included “in-person college instructors” in eligibility for the vaccine since January 11. Wouldn’t it be nice to know just how many in-person professors have gotten vaccinated? It’d sure be helpful if Barnard ever decides to do in-person classes again. Or what about taxi drivers? Again in NYC, because that’s where I live, they became eligible for vaccination on February 2. From a personal standpoint, I’d like to know if I could send my taxi driver to the hospital if my mask slips.
The data situation hasn’t improved since February. New York’s report of vaccine coverage among state hospital workers is still the closest thing we have to occupation reporting. A recent article from EdWeek sheds some light on the issue, citing privacy concerns and a lack of data from vaccine administration sites themselves:
Some state agencies and districts have said privacy concerns prevent them from tracking or publishing teacher vaccination data. Others say vaccine administration sites are not tracking recipients’ occupations and they are not in position to survey employees themselves.
It appears that state and local public health departments were even less prepared to track occupations of vaccine patients than they were to track those patients’ race and ethnicity. But without these numbers, it may take even longer for students to return to classrooms, as evidenced by this quote from Megan Collins, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Consortium for School-Based Health Solutions:
“We’re seeing a substantial disconnect. There are states not prioritizing teachers for vaccine that are fully open for in-person instruction, and others that are prioritizing teachers for vaccines, but aren’t open at all,” Collins said. “If states are going to use teacher vaccinations as a part of the process for safely returning to classrooms, it’s very important then to be able to communicate that information so people know that teachers are actually getting vaccines.”
Biden’s administration has also given schools more money for testing, allocating $650 million in grants to help public schools get access to tests, testing supplies, and logistical assistance. But of course, school testing isn’t being tracked either. New York continues to be the only state that reports detailed data in this area; see our K-12 school data annotations for more info.
- The challenges of routine COVID-19 testing in schoolsAt this point in the pandemic, we know that routine COVID-19 testing can be a key tactic for reducing transmission in communal settings. If you identify cases as soon as they occur through asymptomatic testing, you can quickly isolate those cases and quarantine their contacts—preventing the cases from turning into outbreaks. This strategy works everywhere from kindergarten classrooms to the NBA.
- Opening project conclusion: 11 lessons from the schools that safely reopenedIn the COVID-19 Data Dispatch’s “Opening” series, we profiled five school communities that successfully reopened during the 2020-2021 school year. Through exploring these success stories, we found that the schools used many similar strategies to build trust with their communities and keep COVID-19 case numbers down.
- Fall 2021 school reopening: Stats so farThe COVID-19 Data Dispatch has, clearly, been pretty focused on school reopening in recent weeks. But our “Opening” project is primarily retrospective, looking back at schools that were successful last school year. This fall, the Delta variant and additional political pressures have made reopening success even harder to achieve.
- Opening profile: Going above and beyond in Crown Heights, BrooklynP.S. 705 went above and beyond New York City school reopening guidance, with a particular reliance on the city’s surveillance testing program. This elementary school had a 55% enrollment by the end of the 2020-2021 school year, above the city’s average of about 40%, and made it through the year with just 11 total cases — and zero closures.