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Macon County opens vaccines up for teachers; school increases substitute pay

To expedite the process of opening schools across the state for in-person learning, Governor Roy Cooper opened up vaccine distribution for Group 3 beginning Wednesday of this week. Group 3 includes school personnel across the state and while vaccine supplies have still not reached the level needed to meet demand, local health departments are getting creative to get teachers vaccinated. 

“Governor Cooper has encouraged counties to start to vaccinate school and childcare staff,” said Macon County Public Health Public Information Officer Emily Ritter. “As schools look to increase face-to-face instruction, Macon County Public Health developed a plan to vaccinate as many school and childcare staff as possible, while continuing to vaccinate individuals in Groups 1 and 2.  All allocated doses are still going to groups 1 and 2.  If vials contain extra doses and if anyone scheduled for an appointment does not show, MCPH is administering those doses to school and childcare staff.”

On the first day Group 3 could receive the COVID19 vaccine, the health department was able to distribute 120 vaccines to school personnel at the end of the day due to missed appointments or extra doses available. With the state increasing Macon County’s vaccine allotment to 500 doses per week, with a special event allotment to fill backlog, Macon County health officials are working to clear the backlog for Group 1 & 2 and accommodate Group 3. 

The estimated waitlist for Groups 1 and 2 is approximately 3,000 and the waitlist for teachers and childcare staff is approximately 250 throughout the county. To date, 5,633 vaccines have been given in Macon County with 690 remaining for appointments scheduled throughout the week. 

“The sooner teachers are vaccinated the more likely the school system will increase face-to-face instruction,” said Ritter. 

Jackson County educators have already received both their first and second dose of the vaccine as a surplus of vaccines provided by Harris Regional Hospital allowed a special event clinic to be established last month to begin the process. School was released early last week as well for staff to receive their second dose. 

With state directives changing in the next week across North Carolina to open up schools for more in-person instructions, districts will soon be able to decide if students should return to school under Plan A or Plan B of the state’s toolkit. As it stands, schools in grades 6-12 are under Plan B — which has students attending school at a reduced capacity. However, state legislation will soon allow districts to move to Plan A for all grades. Macon County Superintendent spoke to members of the board of education this week and said for the county to be able to safely do that, additional substitutes will likely be needed. 

Although positive cases are decreasing and Macon County Schools have reported several days over the last month with no new COVID19 cases, Dr. Baldwin said that can change rapidly. 

With available federal Cares ACT funding, the school board approved increasing pay for substitute teachers throughout the end of the school year in hopes of securing adequate substitutes to keep schools open for in-person learning. 

The few instances this school year where schools have had to close, it has not been because of a COVID19 outbreak or too many cases within a school, it has been because of a lack of adequate staff to keep the school open. With the possibility of additional students returning to the classroom and an increase in the chance of exposure, additional substitutes will help keep the schools operating through the end of the year. 

The board voted to increase non-certified substitute from $80 a day to $100 a day and certified staff from $103 a day to $123 a day. 

“I think that is a really great idea and I am happy that you thought of it,” said Board Chair Jim Breedlove. “We all want to keep our students in class as much as possible and substitutes are a vital part in making sure that happens.”

While the health department continues to work through vaccination for Groups 1-3, there are other opportunities for the public to receive vaccines. The Highlands-Cashiers Vaccine initiative will be hosting another clinic this weekend on Sunday, February 28 at the Cashiers/Glenville Recreation Center. Appointments are being scheduled from the waiting list, which is first-come, first-serve. To be added to their waitlist, call 828-526-1310 or email them at highlandscovidvaccine@gmail.com. 

Western Carolina University was approved as a regional vaccination clinic and began distributing vaccines this week. WCU’s clinic is currently supporting Jackson County DPH to reduce its vaccination waitlist which is expected to be completed in 2-3 weeks, at which point WCU will begin scheduling new appointments following the eligible groups set by NCDHHS. WCU’s Vaccine Clinic location is located on the ground floor of the Health and Human Sciences Building at 3971 Little Savannah Road, Cullowhee, NC 28723 

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