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KUNC is here to keep you up-to-date on the news about COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — Colorado's response to its spread in our state and its impact on Coloradans.

Hundreds Of Fort Collins Teachers Receive First Doses Of COVID-19 Vaccine

Matt Bloom
Bradford Lardner (right) rolls up his sleeve to receive a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Lardner, an English teacher, was one a part of the first wave of educators to receive their doses this week.

In true teacher form, Stacy Ruffer wanted to turn his COVID-19 vaccine appointment into a learning opportunity.

The morning before he was set to get his shot, Ruffer, an English and computer science teacher at Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins, had his students journal about it in class.

The prompt? What superpower will be my most likely side effect from getting vaccinated?

“I’m hoping for super strength,” Ruffer said after getting his shot on Tuesday. “And the kids were all over the place.”

Ruffer was one of hundreds of Poudre School District staff who received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Banner Health this week. (Colorado educators became officially eligible on Monday).

To accommodate teacher schedules, the hospital system held a series of evening clinics at its clinic in Windsor. Those in attendance expressed joy and relief upon getting their shots.

“I’m really glad that they’re putting educators at the top of the list so we can hopefully see our students more again,” said Brooke Wagner, a counselor at Rocky Mountain High School. “That’s really important to us.”

Students at Rocky have been using a hybrid learning model since coming back from winter break, Wagner said. She’s been meeting with students one-on-one with masks on. Social distancing has been difficult for everyone, she added.

So, when she received a link to sign up for an appointment through her work account last week, she didn’t hesitate.

“I think we’ll have more of a sense of safety going forward,” Wagner said. “Hopefully we can give our students hugs and high fives sometime in the near future and be able to see their smiling faces. It's hard to see my students under their masks all the time.”

Matt Bloom
A sign points to the waiting room in Banner Health's clinic in Windsor. The hospital system held several evening clinics for teachers this week to accomodate their schedules.

Gov. Jared Polis moved educators higher up in the state’s vaccine priority line in late January. The latest shuffle also prioritized residents age 65 and older, as well as top government officials and workers at child care facilities.

The shift to vaccinating teachers represents a major step forward in Colorado’s massive vaccine rollout, which has so far seen more than half a million doses delivered. Before, only health care workers, first responders and seniors over the age of 70 were eligible.

The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said the move was an important step.

“For the past year, the pandemic has and continues to take a tremendous toll on educators, students and their families,” the union said in a statement. “While we believe that ALL essential workers should be a priority for the vaccine, this is a gigantic step toward our longstanding goal of getting students back into classrooms.”

In response to the vaccine shuffle, local health departments and vaccine providers began coordinating with local districts to schedule staff for appointments. According to the state, most educators will now receive an invitation for an appointment through their employer. (Other eligible residents should sign up directly with a provider).

Poudre School District said in a statement it plans to make appointments for all types of staff members in the coming weeks, including teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff and safety officers, among others. The school has no plans to modify current coronavirus safety protocols, but that could change as vaccinations ramp up.

“This is a positive move forward that supports PSD’s plans to keep schools open,” the district said in a statement.

Other districts in Northern Colorado confirmed to KUNC they’ve already started scheduling staff for appointments. Greeley-Evans School District 6 sent a small group of staff to get their first doses earlier this week, according to Theresa Myers, the district’s spokeswoman.

“We are working through our priority list as vaccines become available,” Myers said in an email. “Right now, there just are not many doses to give out.”

Thompson School District has started working with UCHealth, Banner and Kaiser Permanente to schedule vaccination appointments for staff, the district said in a statement.

“We’ve been able to provide staff members with three specific portals to register and schedule vaccinations as they become available,” the statement said. “This effort includes a focus on providing equitable vaccine access to our frontline staff members.”

It’s unclear exactly how long vaccinating all of Colorado’s educators will take. In a virtual press conference on Feb. 9, Polis said he hopes the majority can get their first vaccine doses within the next three weeks.

“It may take a few weeks to get to everyone. We know it will,” Polis said. “But if you’re eligible to get one and you want it, you will.”

Matt Bloom
Barbara Comstock, a registered nurse, prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic for Northern Colorado teachers on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2021.

In a community forum held Feb. 5, Northern Colorado hospital leaders pleaded for patience from educators and other newly eligible residents. Most hospitals are still working through vaccinating the 70-and-up population and even some health care workers, said Margo Karsten, Banner Health’s western region president.

“It’s hard because everyone wants a vaccine, which is good,” Karsten said. “We’re still committed to getting all 70-and-older residents vaccinated. Now as we look at educators and child care providers, we’re going to feel that (demand) get even tighter.”

The push to vaccinate teachers comes as Colorado’s COVID-19 case numbers continue to fall. Hospitalizations from the disease are at their lowest level since early October.

As a result, many communities have loosened coronavirus restrictions on businesses. Some school districts have returned to full in-person learning. Others are still partially remote.

A parent himself, Stacy Ruffer knows how difficult remote learning has been for many families.

The English and computer science teacher said the arrival of vaccines has brought a sense of relief and levity for many staff and students after a tough year. His students cheered for him when he announced he was getting a vaccine.

“In one of my classes, everyone is a really big Hamilton fan, so we were all talking about ‘not throwing away my shot’ and tying it into that,” he said. “They thought that was really funny.”

Bradford Lardner, an English teacher at Kinard Middle School in Fort Collins, was opposed to the idea of returning to in-person learning without vaccines. He was happy to see his district select a hybrid learning model for the start of 2021.

But after getting vaccinated at Banner’s Windsor clinic this week, he said he’s ready to go back to all in-person learning when it’s safe to do so.

“I think for me and a lot of co-workers, our comfort level was hinging on the vaccine,” Lardner said. “I’m definitely more comfortable now.”

I cover a wide range of issues within Colorado’s dynamic economy including energy, labor, housing, beer, marijuana, elections and other general assignment stories.
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