It’s been almost 365 days since COVID-19 imposed Michigan schools to turn off lights and lock doors.
Now, after a wave of adjustments in remote learning, pauses in athletics and a focus on safety, local schools are beginning to breathe a little easier as COVID-19 vaccinations are slowly dispersed to faculty and staff.
With appointments for vaccinations remaining in high demand, school districts like Grand Haven and Spring Lake have watched their vaccination totals climb to over half of total staff. According to the Michigan.gov COVID-19 dashboard, a total of 2.9 million vaccines have been distributed to Michiganders as of March 1.
An almost identical 1.4 million Pfizer and Moderna vaccine shots have been given, while Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccines arrive to Michigan this week.
According to MLive, Michigan will be receiving almost a half-million COVID-19 vaccine doses this week.
Ionia Public Schools recently closed for a day last month as a large portion of its teachers received their second vaccination. The second dose often has more side effects than the first.
According to Spring Lake superintendent Dennis Furton, as his staff slowly receives their vaccinations, they haven’t faced such a situation.
“Right now I have 160 out of 280 total teachers and support staff that have been vaccinated,” Furton said. “They have all done it through their own efforts to find slots through Helen DeVos in Grand Rapids or North Ottawa Community Hospital in Grand Haven.”
Furton said that by next week, he wouldn’t be surprised if the number of vaccinated staff members climbs to over 200. He’s crossing his fingers that at some point, Ottawa County can run a regional clinic that the Spring Lake staff could partake in.
Of the 325 staff members at Fruitport, 160 of them were vaccinated through the vaccine initiative of the Muskegon County Health Department according to superintendent Bob Szymoniak.
“I know a lot of other staff have gotten vaccinated on their own too,” Szymoniak added. “But this Saturday is the last round for the second dose of vaccines.”
Grand Haven Area Public Schools Superintendent Andy Ingall has similar numbers with his staff.
“According to our voluntary survey, we are estimating that it’s likely that 50 percent or more of our staff has received their COVID-19 vaccination shot or are on their way to get their second shot,” Ingall said.
Ingall mentioned that they’ve recommended and advertised opportunities for vaccinations to their staff as they become more readily available. Although it isn’t required for staff to become vaccinated, plenty of Grand Haven’s teachers have been proactive in taking advantage of vaccination opportunities.
“The good news is, it’s helping our staff feel more comfortable with their teaching and being in school,” Ingall said. “That in turn, has helped us have good continuity with our in-person learning.”
Additionally, more positive news effects students and teachers inside the classroom. If a student in a classroom were to test positive for COVID-19 and the teacher has received their vaccination in full, they will not have to quarantine if it’s been at least 14 days since their second dose.
Spring Lake schools can slowly exhale as vaccines become more accessible, as Furton and his staff know they are one step closer to potential immunity of COVID-19. On the opposite side of the coin, scheduling appointments to get vaccinated has become frustratingly difficult.
“We’re making progress and getting better quickly and we’re very much appreciative of the Ottawa County Health Department,” Furton said. “But we need more vaccines out here in the county to reach the capacity in terms of our staff.”