Kern County announced Friday that those who work in local schools will be among the many workers becoming eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting next week.
The question of whether school employees would be prioritized to receive a vaccine has been an urgent one as the county's largest school districts push for a spring reopening. Kern High School District trustees Bryan Batey and Janice Graves encouraged the public to call the county to open up vaccinations to teachers.
Friday's announcement provided a glimmer of hope for some.
The number of public school employees in the county is around 25,000, according to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. That includes not just teachers but classified employees and administrators. Spokesman Robert Meszaros called employees newfound vaccine eligibility "positive news."
"It adds one more layer in schools’ layered approach to COVID mitigation," he wrote, in an email.
He warned it's not a "magic bullet." Personal protective equipment, hand-washing and social distancing are still crucial in keeping COVID-19 rates at bay.
During a news conference Friday, Kern County Public Health Services Director Brynn Carrigan explained that the county was following state guidance for the way that it was prioritizing who is eligible for vaccinations. Older populations at risk were deemed a priority, she said.
New guidance from the state opens up 30 percent of the current allotments to those who work in agriculture, food, child care, emergency service as well as education. No one industry is given a higher priority than the other. The remaining 70 percent is allotted to those 65 and older.
County administrators were very clear that the current rate of vaccine doses aren't nearly enough and far below what the county can handle, though they are increasing. To give an example, it would take 11 weeks to vaccinate the rest of the 65 and older population at the current rate. It would take 48 weeks to vaccinate the newly eligible workers.
School employees who want the vaccine can go anywhere they want to get it. But many school districts have taken it upon themselves to create partnerships to make the process easier.
That worked well for Amanda Isaac, the choir director at Bakersfield High School. She was able to make an appointment within hours of an email hitting her inbox from the Kern High School District. She was surprised how quick and easy the process was.
"I didn't anticipate it being so swift," she wrote. She called the process "fantastic."
The KHSD partnered with Kern Medical to vaccinate its employees.
"The district is excited to get the green light for our employees to receive a vaccination," wrote spokeswoman Erin Briscoe, in a statement. "We are hopeful that this is just another step forward on a path to resuming in-person instruction."
The Bakersfield City School District is unique in that it has actually received approval to use its own wellness center to dispense vaccines. Spokeswoman Tabatha Mills said that the BCSD could be receiving doses of the vaccine as early as next week. In the meantime, the district is working with outside providers to help its employees get their doses.
Stacy Moss, a teacher in the Bakersfield City School District, said the news makes the prospect of returning to the classroom slightly less daunting. The district announced it may be returning in April.
"I’m glad they’re finally letting us get the vaccine," she said. "Once I am in that waiting period for it to be effective I will be, well I don’t want to say 100 percent confident, but I will say 90 percent confident."