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Washington outlines plans for vaccinating teachers

Older teachers and those with health risks could be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine by February. But not all teachers are in this group.

SPOKANE, Wash. — One of the next groups to get COVID-19 vaccinations in Washington is teachers who are at higher risk of getting sick.

Starting in February, K-12 teachers and staff who are 50 or older and work around kids in schools will be eligible to get COVID vaccines, the Department of Health announced Wednesday.

The announcement is a relief for some educators, but it won’t mean students will return to their classrooms right away.

"We are relieved that school employees and other frontline workers will receive priority access to the COVID vaccine. The COVID vaccine is one essential tool in preventing infections and is a critical part of a larger strategy to keep students and educators safe,” the Washington Education Association said in a statement.

Teachers unions and districts must agree to certain COVID-19 safety precautions, like smaller classes, masking, and improved ventilation before in-person learning resumes.

Some districts are not waiting for the vaccine and already starting to bring kids back to their desks.

Third-grade students in Spokane Public Schools will begin returning to their classrooms on an alternating schedule beginning Jan. 20. All third-graders are expected to return to in-person learning on Feb. 2. 

Fifth and sixth-graders will start in a hybrid model on Feb. 17, followed by middle and high school students beginning their return to classrooms in a hybrid model on March 1.

Phase three would see middle and high schoolers start in a hybrid model on March 1.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who will join the Biden administration as chief medical advisor, said vaccinations will be an essential step toward re-opening schools.

“It's extremely important to get children back into school and kept in school and the idea of vaccinating teachers is very high up in the priority,” he said in a December interview.

Teachers and school staff under the age of 50 will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in April, the Washington State Department of Health said.