We Should Close Schools Until All Teachers And Staff Are Vaccinated

We Should Close Schools Until All Teachers And Staff Are Vaccinated

An Elementary School Student Working at Home
Scary Mommy and RichLegg/Getty

We’re so close. Joe Biden has promised to release all of our COVID-19 vaccine stock immediately, according to CNN, breaking with the Trump administration’s policy: holding back half our vaccines because people need second doses. Biden will set up federally-run vaccine sites in school gyms and sports stadiums, and says he’ll get 100 million doses in people during his first 100 days in office, says The New York Times. That’s enough time for many people to receive their second doses and even achieve full immunity. Because Biden’s planned to speed up our vaccination efforts, we need to close schools until all teachers and staff are vaccinated. Full stop.

This Is The Homestretch, Y’all

I know we’re tired. Virtual school is exhausting and draining. “We had computer trouble and six-year-old trouble and I think my son’s whole class heard me say ‘shit’ the other day,” a friend told me. And this was an average day, with a sweet, well-behaved, kid. Another friend’s son, an only child, broke down weeping a few days ago. “It’s so hard,” he cried. These kids have parents who work from home. Their parents don’t scramble for childcare, like so many unfortunate Americans. My own three children are lucky enough to have each other, are used to homeschooling, and have a stay-at-home parent. They’re privileged as hell, and yet they’re still struggling. 

It’s really fucking hard out there, folks. And if we keep schools closed until teachers and staff are vaccinated, we’ll be here for a few months longer. I know that. But we’re almost there. Waiting for teachers to be vaccinated will only take a few short months: a few short months that will save so many lives.

Sometimes I count and cry: ten months now, a long, hard way from “Tiger King” and pandemic snackage. I break down because I don’t know what to do anymore and I can’t leave my house when we have a 33% positive test rate. Luckily my teacher husband is now doing full virtual again. But I’m terrified they’ll send him back without being vaccinated.

We Can’t Reopen Without Teachers Being Vaccinated

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Evidence says that children are a major COVID-19 vector. According to The Harvard Gazette, a study in The Journal of Pediatrics found that even asymptomatic children with COVID-19 harbor a high viral load in their airways. Unfortunately, according to the Center for Disease Control as many as one-half of all children who contract COVID-19 may be asymptomatic, and children who contract the virus can continue shedding it for weeks, both through their respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, says Physicians Weekly.

If we can’t vaccinate children, we place our teachers in grave danger when we send them to teach before being vaccinated. Children simply cannot properly mask, distance, or disinfect properly. It cannot be done. It cannot be done in a kindergarten setting, and it cannot be done in a high school setting. Moreover, teacher safety depends on proper ventilation, which 41% of schools lack, according to the National Education Association.

And we need to reopen, and reopen fully. None of this half-virtual, half-face-to-face crap, which exhausts teachers and still leaves parents on the hook for childcare. We need open schools. And to open schools fully without endangering teachers and staff, we need teacher and staff to be vaccinated.

Yes, Kids Will Still Be COVID-19 Vectors

If we reopen, even with teacher and staff vaccinated, kids will still be asymptomatic COVID-19 vectors. However, we need to reopen. We can wait another two or three months while teachers and staff (and other adults in high risk-groups) get vaccinated. We cannot wait out this school year until kids are vaccinated in — July? August?

Nope.

But vaccinations will keep teachers and staff safe, and they are, as a whole, a high-risk group. According to AARP, a full 25% of teachers are at risk for serious complications from COVID-19. That doesn’t count staff members: people like custodial staff, secretaries, speech therapists, and aides who keep schools running. My husband and many of his teacher buddies fall into this high-risk category. And in 2008, ABC News found teaching was the germiest profession out there — worse than medicine.

Teacher are likely to bring home the virus and get sick, overburdening our already crushed healthcare systems.

Parents? They want school back in session, pronto. They’re likely to trade isolating kids from grandma for school’s babysitting duties. Yes, their kids might turn into possible vectors. But at least they won’t be stuck at home, crying that they can’t see their friends, climbing their walls, and weeping.

When teacher and staff are vaccinated, parents can go to work — knowing their kids’ school won’t close because too many teachers contracted COVID-19 or had to quarantine, and its administration can’t find enough substitutes to staff it.

We Can’t Stop Until They’re Vaccinated

We have done ten months of hard sacrifice. We can’t let that ten months stand in vain by reopening too early, mid-COVID-19 post-holiday surge, with unvaccinated teachers and staff. Kids who depend on schools for food can have food distributed through other means — how do you think they feed those kids during the summer months? My local districts manage it, and if South Carolina can do it, so can the rest of you.

Yes, there are kids in bad situations. Yes, there are kids in homeless shelters. Arrangements should be made for those few who desperately need it to have a safe place in each district. That place should be staffed only by low-risk staff who volunteer. I know teachers: ones who can volunteer, will. I have seen friends teaching virtual school break down over Zoom worrying for their students who rely on brick-and-mortar school’s structure for food, attention, and even love.

But however you slice it, with Biden’s vaccination plans coming, getting teachers vaccinated is a must before reopening. We have hung on this long. We’re Americans. We can hang on a little longer. We can sacrifice a little more. And those who can should help the ones who can’t. Hold up your neighbor. Drop off some toys for that kid next door. Tip your service providers as much as you can afford (and really ask yourself: how much can I afford, knowing we are in a pandemic and they are putting themselves at risk?). Call that person you worry may be isolating themselves. Zoom with that parent who may be overwhelmed.

Hold each other up. If we can only get teachers and school staff vaccinated, we’re on the road to normalcy.