COVID-19 vaccine will be available this week to all child care center and pre-K to 12th-grade personnel in Wilkes County who indicated they want it, said Wilkes Health Director Rachel Willard.

Willard said this is planned in three drive-through vaccination clinics, one apiece on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. “Our goal is to vaccinate all teachers and staff (in Wilkes) who are interested this week if possible,” she said.

Moderna vaccine for 650 first doses is designated for these clinics, which Willard said is based on 581 employees of the Wilkes County Schools, 31 from local private schools and 22 from local childcare centers indicating they wish to be vaccinated.

People in these employment categories, regardless of age, become eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations statewide Wednesday as part of group three in the eligibility process. Certain other categories of frontline workers in group three become eligible March 10.

Wednesday’s clinic is for the newly-eligible people with workplaces in two of the four Wilkes school districts. Thursday’s clinic is for another of the districts and Friday’s is for the fourth district. The three clinics, at undisclosed locations, are only for childcare center and pre-K to 12th-grade personnel in Wilkes. As such, they’re called “closed pod” clinics.

Willard said the health department is working with local public and private school and childcare officials to provide the clinics.

She said Moderna vaccine for the closed pod clinics is part of a shipment the health department received Monday, which was enough for 2,400 first doses.

Half of the first dose vaccine received Monday is for 1,200 people who lost appointments when a Feb. 18 clinic at Lowe’s Park at River’s Edge was canceled due to icy conditions elsewhere, delaying vaccine shipments and creating uncertain travel conditions locally.

Willard said these 1,200, mostly people 65 and older, have top priority for vaccinations at a first dose, drive-through clinic at River’s Edge Thursday. The health department is contacting them to schedule makeup appointments then.

Willard said the other half of the Moderna vaccine received Monday for first doses is what the health department expected for Thursday’s clinic.

Starting with the clinic Thursday at Rivers Edge, appointments at Wilkes Health Department first dose clinics can be made online by going to www.wilkeshealth.com. They can also still be made by calling 336-990-9950. A limited number of first dose appointments will be available online initially, stated an announcement on the health department website. People wanting to schedule appointments online must have active email addresses.

The department is accepting appointments for 300 second doses of Moderna at a drive-through clinic at River’s Edge Friday for people who received first doses on or before Jan. 29. Second dose appointments could already be made at www.wilkeshealth.com, as well as by calling 336-990-9950.

Appointments for first dose vaccinations are available on a more limited basis at health department evening clinics by calling 336-651-7450.

People eligible for vaccination starting Wednesday include most of the 1,600 employees of the Wilkes County Schools, as well as employees in similar positions at private schools and Bridges Charter School in State Road. They include about 225 staff of Head Start and other child care centers, pre-kindergarten programs, family child care homes, on-site consultants, therapists and related personnel, said Kirstin Roberts, child care health consultant with Wilkes Community Partnership for Children.

A defining feature of those eligible for vaccination in group three is having to be in-person at place of work, including those who anticipate returning to this. It doesn’t include homeschool or community college teachers and other staff.

Wilkes School Superintendent Mark Byrd said eligible employees of each school system statewide include but aren’t limited to teachers, teacher assistants, student and substitute teachers, special education teachers and therapists, school and district administrators, school administrative staff, school transportation drivers, food service workers, custodial and maintenance staff, media and information technology specialists, school safety personnel, librarians, instructional support staff and school support staff such as guidance counselors, social workers and speech language pathologists. School nurses were part of the group eligible for vaccination. Byrd said there are 598 teachers in the Wilkes schools.

“Staff members (of the Wilkes schools) were asked to complete paperwork if they wanted the vaccine, and at this time roughly 44% have signed up. We anticipate that number increasing as they learn more specifics about vaccination clinics and the vaccines themselves,” said Byrd on Feb. 18.

He added, “We did not survey staff to see who would or would not get vaccinated and have only gathered data concerning those who are actually signing up.”

In addition, he said, “Employees over age 65 have already had (vaccination) clinics held for them, so many of them aren’t included” in the percentage who signed up to be vaccinated.

“At this time, we have not offered incentives” for being vaccinated, Byrd added.

“We can’t say enough about the efforts of the Wilkes County Health Department in trying to ensure our staff receive vaccines as soon as possible, Rachel Willard, Lindsey Roberts (community health services director) and their entire staff have continued to be tremendous assets to the students and staff of Wilkes County Schools,” said Byrd.

In addition to vaccinating teachers and other staff, wearing masks and other practices, discussion on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in schools nationwide has focused on the importance of having well ventilated buildings. This includes the condition of school HVAC systems.

“In terms of good ventilation systems helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19, I do feel that our success with keeping schools open during the pandemic has shown that we are fortunate in this area,” said Byrd.

He credited Bergie Speaks, director of maintenance for the Wilkes schools, with consistently looking for ways to improve ventilation. “He is currently researching some products that can make these systems even stronger.”

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