SAN ANTONIO – Teachers and educators in Texas should be added to the state’s COVID-19 vaccine priority list when the initial distribution of the drug is conducted, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Thursday.
In a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, Nirenberg and Wolff urged the governor to amend the state’s priority tiers as well as provide federal funds to support widespread COVID-19 testing in schools.
Abbott and the state health department have announced a plan for the distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine, which includes specific groups like healthcare workers, frontline workers and vulnerable populations.
“School nurses are rightfully considered a priority in the Texas vaccination process, but we believe that teachers and faculty should be included in the two frontline tiers,” the letter said. “While school nurses are more likely to interact with students who may be sick, studies have shown that children, teens and young adults are less likely to present with COVID-19 symptoms -- making teachers and faculty just as susceptible to the asymptomatic spread of this pandemic.”
The request comes as the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District issued a new directive this week against in-person education after the School Risk Level Indicator is now in the Red Zone, which means the risk is high for contracting the virus in school. Local leaders don’t have the power to enforce that recommendation, and San Antonio’s largest school districts have said they do not plan to go to 100% virtual again.
Even if school districts were to preemptively switch back to all-virtual classes - against guidance from the Texas Education Agency - they could face funding issues unless they made up the time later on.
“I think we’re clear that there’s a tremendous amount of pressure from the state with regard to funding in order that schools are feeling to stay open. And we want to make sure that those staff and faculty and teachers that are on the front line of this pandemic are vaccinated and are safe,” Nirenberg told KSAT.
The Northside American Federation of Teachers praised Wolff and Nirenberg’s letter. The union’s parent organization, Texas AFT, has created a petition for the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel to prioritize educators and school employees in its plans and recommendations.
“So if they’re essential, they need to be - and they’re being treated as frontline workers, then they need to be part of the primary group of folks that are getting this vaccination,” said Northside AFT’s lead organizer Melina Espiritu-Azocar
The mayor and county judge’s letter also calls for the governor to allocate state CARES Act dollars towards COVID-19 testing in schools. The local non-profit Community Labs is currently testing at 98 Bexar County school campuses, but it’s far from a universal program.
Nirenberg and Wolff also said in the letter that the San Antonio region continues to see high positivity rates, extensive community spread and a rise in hospitalizations.