TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – As local counties work to get through phases of Tennessee’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plan, all but Sullivan County have moved on to vaccinating teachers.
Educators were moved to Phase 1b in Tennessee’s vaccination plan in late December, with the hopes of keeping classrooms open. But even if they choose to get vaccinated, it might not help to ensure staffing.
“They still will need to be quarantined if they are exposed to a positive case,” said Washington Co., Tennessee Schools Director of Coordinated School Health, Kelly Wagner. “The vaccine is 95% effective and hopefully will help people from getting the disease, but if they do get the disease it will hopefully keep them from being in the hospital and having serious side effects.”
Wagner also said the different strains of COVID-19 are a concern that would still require vaccinated teachers to quarantine if exposed to positive cases.
The most recent guidance on reopening schools and quarantine protocols from the Tennessee Department of Health was released in August.
News Channel 11 reached out to the Tennessee Department of Health asking if those who have received both doses still have to quarantine if they come in contact with someone who has COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the department said “CDC guidance still states quarantine is necessary. We do anticipate a change in that guidance and await CDC’s update.”
However, certain critical infrastructure workers may work during their quarantine if they are masked continuously. The department of health said, “This is only true for teachers where the school district has met the criteria outlined by TDH and TDOE to designate their staff as critical infrastructure.”
In Sullivan County, most school nurses and school resource officers are getting their second dose of the vaccine.
“That may be added to part of that assessment, but currently we do not have guidelines that address if you’ve had one or two vaccines, so we’re hoping that will come out very soon,” said Diane Copas, Sullivan Co. School Systems’ School Health Services Director. “We conducted a survey and we had a little less than 75% interested in the vaccine. I think as more people hear about it and see actual people who have taken the vaccine, I think they’re more comfortable with it.”
Even if school staff choose to get vaccinated, the state and systems aren’t currently tracking that information.
“There isn’t a front end tracking process for us when it comes to staff and vaccines, it’s more part of the contact tracing process if an educator is deemed to be a contact to a positive case,” said Kingsport City Schools Asst. Superintendent Andy True.
Even though it’s not required, systems are encouraging the vaccine.
“If we did try to track it, it may not be an accurate number,” Wagner said. “Some people will voluntarily tell us that they’ve got the vaccine, but we have others who may not and the numbers itself wouldn’t be accurate.”
Anecdotally, based on responses to emails and correspondence, school officials say interest in the vaccine is high.
“We do get a lot of questions, a lot of emails from teachers, so just based on that there’s a significant amount of teachers, faculty, and staff that are getting the vaccine,” Wagner said.
The state tracks vaccinations through an online registry, TennIIs, but that doesn’t include a person’s place of employment.
“On the demographic information that we collect, we do not indicate occupation,” said Sullivan Co. Health Services Director, Mark Moody. “So, to my knowledge, that particular thing is not being tracked by TennIIs.”
Sullivan County is the only county in Northeast Tennessee that hasn’t vaccinated any educators. Health officials say it’s because they are focusing on the elderly population first.