Teachers, people 65+ could get vaccine sooner than expected

LPOSD adopts ‘tool’ to shorten quarantine time for mask-to-mask student contact

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

In an updated timeline for COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Idaho released Jan. 12, health officials are now prioritizing first responders, correctional facility staff and K-12 teachers and staff to receive their first doses of the two-dose coronavirus vaccine. People over the age of 65 have also been moved up in the new timeline, now expected to start accessing the vaccine by Feb. 1.

In conjunction with the release of the new timeline — which stemmed from a recommendation from Idaho’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee — Gov. Brad Little said his goal is to ramp up vaccine distribution and enhance communication about accessing doses in Idaho. He emphasized the fact that doses of the vaccine come straight from the manufacturer to regional health districts across the state.

Dr. Chase Williams receives one of the first vaccinations administered at BGH in December 2020. Photo courtesy BGH.

“The state of Idaho gets the doses and the resources to the providers, and the providers get the shots in the arms of people who want it,” he said.

A large population of Idahoans that could see access to the vaccine sooner than originally anticipated are those 65 and older.

“The 65-and-older population is enormous, and there is still work actively being done to build up capacity among our providers to take on this population,” Little said. “We do not want to create a bubble or backlog. Once we get a handle on capacity, we will be able to get to the 65-and-older population.”

Several North Idahoans have already received their first dose of the vaccine through the Panhandle Health District, which opened vaccine clinic appointments last week and filled them very quickly.

“We are pleased that so many people in our community are eager to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” said PHD Health Services Administrator Don Duffy. “With that being said, supply is still limited and that is why it is imperative that we stick with the phased vaccine approach. 

“The Idaho COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Committee has created the phases and as an enrolled provider, we are obligated to adhere to the guidelines in accordance with the governor’s recommendations,” he added. “We ask that each individual wait for their specific phase to receive the vaccine.”

PHD shared in a Jan. 12 press release that current clinics “are available to those who are in the Phase 1a and the top priority groups in the Phase 1b categories of the vaccine distribution plan.” This includes health care providers, first responders, teachers and people 65 years of age and older. See the entire updated timeline at coronavirus.idaho.gov/covid-19-vaccine. 

Duffy said PHD will request proof of age or employment before administering the vaccine, and that pre-approval from a primary physician is not required. However, do not show up to a vaccine clinic without an appointment — reach out to PHD ahead of time to be sure you won’t be turned away.

“If you are a part of the first priority groups, the health district and community partners enrolled to administer the vaccine will coordinate with your employer as the vaccine is made available,” PHD officials stated.

You can contact PHD’s COVID-19 hotline with questions Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. at 877-415-5225. Also learn more about the vaccine when Kaniksu Health Services hosts a live community webinar on Thursday, Jan. 21 at 5:30 p.m. over Zoom. Register for the event at bit.ly/3nIOV58.

As of Jan. 13, nearly 500 Bonner County residents had received the COVID-19 vaccine, with 130 of those people having received both doses and considered fully vaccinated. Almost 4,000 people in the Panhandle Health District had received at least one dose, while nearly 700 of those had received both.

Lake Pend Oreille School District Superintendent Tom Albertson said at the Jan. 12 trustee meeting that PHD and Bonner General Health officials have been in contact with the school district to coordinate vaccinations for teachers and staff in the coming weeks.

“Everybody who wants a vaccination [will] have that opportunity,” he told the board.

LPOSD trustees also considered a new protocol recommendation from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and health district epidemiologists that could possibly alter quarantine requirements when contact tracing in classroom settings. Albertson said that if a student tests positive, any other student who is considered a close contact — within six feet of the positive student for 15 minutes or more — could avoid the required isolation period and instead just monitor for symptoms if both students were properly wearing masks when they came into contact.

Trustee Lonnie Williams said he felt the recommendation was worth considering.

“I know that’s been a point of contention for some families, when they find out their kiddo needs to go home for two weeks because they sat in the same classroom as somebody that tested positive,” Williams said. “I also realize that if it’s an elementary class, the likelihood of both students being masked is pretty slim, but at the middle school and high school level, could we then rely on this if we chose to?”

Under current LPOSD COVID-19 classroom guidelines, K-6 students are only required to wear masks in transitional spaces like hallways, while secondary students wear face coverings at all times.

Trustee Gary Suppiger noted that the district has seen no conclusive evidence of student-to-student transmission within classroom settings to date.

“That’s a positive thing,” he said, adding that the board has continued to change its close contact quarantine policy throughout the year — from the original two-week requirement to a one-week period — as more data has come to light. 

“Additional flexibility is warranted,” he said.

The board voted unanimously to adopt the new policy to be used at the discretion of contact tracers, and only in classroom scenarios — not in athletic or other extracurricular activity settings.

“I look at this as a tool for our contact tracers — which is our nursing staff and administrators — to say, ‘If it happened to be a scenario where both were masked, then maybe we don’t need to quarantine as much,’” Albertson said. “This is not meant to say that we need to change our operation protocol or what we’re doing in our classrooms.”

Albertson reported that LPOSD currently has 11 active cases of COVID-19 in school staff and students, and that there have been 117 cases in the district since the start of the school year.

PHD reported a total of 2,298 cases of COVID-19 in Bonner County since the start of the pandemic, with 687 of those active as of Jan. 13. The health district has logged 19 COVID-related deaths in the county.

Idaho reported 1,091 new cases of the virus Jan. 13, bringing the statewide total to 152,364 since March. IDHW reports that 1,564 Idahoans have lost their lives to COVID-19.

Further information about cases and vaccine distribution can be found at coronavirus.idaho.gov.

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