MHS teachers, staff vaccinated

Kris Long, Sports Editor

The Riley County Health Department administered the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to around 600 of USD 383’s secondary school staff on Feb. 12. Elementary staff were also vaccinated last Friday.

The vaccinations came earlier than expected. Due to the extreme cold in the past two weeks, many of those 65 and older were not able to show up for their scheduled vaccination, so the health department reallocated those doses to the second half of phase two — teachers.

“We collected lists from USD 383, USD 378 and USD 384, as well as Manhattan Catholic school, and we are able to vaccinate 50% of the individuals on their list,” RCHD director Julie Gibbs said. “We’re hoping to finish their lists within the next couple of weeks.”

Although there has been public skepticism over the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, more than 80% of district staff have indicated that they would like to be vaccinated. It is not yet a requirement, but there is potential for it to be in the future.

“I trust the science,” social studies teacher Darron McCoy said. “I believe the science and trust that it can help not only me and my family but the community at large to slow and stop the spread.”

The health department has been putting out information from the Center for Disease Control and Kansas Department of Health and Environment to fight misinformation about vaccination in Manhattan. 

“We reassure individuals that it’s far better to get the vaccine than it is to get COVID,” Gibbs said. “We know that there are some side effects, especially from that second dose. We have the Moderna vaccine and we’re not seeing hardly any side effects with the first dose, but the second dose some people might be out of work for a day or two, just because they’re not feeling well.”

The health department expects to have all school staff who want the vaccine to have had their second dose by early March, causing some to be optimistic about a return to normalcy. 

“I feel like after spring break I’m going to be able to let off the pedal for me,” P.E. teacher Susan Melgares said. “It’s not an endpoint, but it’s a step in the right direction… after the second vaccine, I think I will feel better for my own health.”

However, COVID-19 safety policy within the district will not be drastically changed. Those vaccinated will still be required to wear masks in school buildings. If a vaccinated staff member is exposed to a positive case after their second dose they will no longer be required to quarantine, but that only extends to 90 days after their full vaccination. 

“If they are deemed close contact anytime within the 90 days after their second dose they will not have to quarantine,” Gibbs said. “The reason the CDC is saying only 90 days is because we’re not sure of long-term immunity yet. So they’re just saying 90 days for now.”

Those 90 days will take the district through the end of the school year, which reinforces expectations that schools will remain open five days a week through May.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox,” USD 383 communications director Michele Jones said. “I think our teachers and students have been doing a great job all this year. Our numbers continue to decrease; the amount of people who are positive plus the amount of people in quarantine have continued to decrease these last few weeks. So I think people are really doing a great job. I think this vaccination process is just another step to make people feel more comfortable.”