Saturday, April 10, 2021

Whitefish Schools COVID team works to get educators vaccinated

Whitefish Pilot | March 31, 2021 1:00 AM

The Whitefish School District’s COVID task force has been hard at work securing COVID-19 vaccines for teachers and school staff.

With help from the school district and the community, Whitefish teachers union president Lisa Bloom says all school staff who were interested in being vaccinated were scheduled to receive at least their first shot by spring break last week. Bloom credits the COVID task force, and especially the schools’ COVID-19 coordinator Deanne Sramek, in making the vaccination process easier and faster for teachers and staff in the district.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to become vaccinated and all of the work that has gone into getting teachers vaccinated,” Bloom said during a recent school board meeting. “We have heard that in other area school districts, the teachers were left to their own devices to find their vaccines and Whitefish made a very concerted effort to find an easy pathway to get their staff vaccinated.”

Shortly after Montana moved into the 1B tier for COVID-19 vaccinations in late January — which made all Montanans 70-plus, those 16 to 69 years of age with a high-risk medical condition, and Native Americans and other persons of color who may be at elevated risk for COVID-19 complications eligible for the vaccine — Whitefish superintendent Dave Means, Sramek, and the COVID task force team formulated a plan for assisting in vaccinations of teachers and school staff.

At the time teachers had been moved down the priority list for receiving vaccinations, but Sramek said the district wanted to make sure there was a plan in place for when teachers became eligible. She said they started by surveying all staff, guest teachers and bus drivers to gauge interest in receiving the vaccine and find out how large of a priority it was for each of them. This list was shared with the Flathead City-County Health Department and North Valley Hospital to help stay updated on who would be eligible next.

“Each time the FCCHD or NVH moved vaccination tiers — 1A,1B and 1B+ — we notified staff immediately in case any staff qualified for the current tier,” Sramek said.

The task force’s efforts to work with the community advocating for teacher and staff vaccines first paid off when the health department notified the district that staff working with students in a section within the special education department qualified for vaccinations while Montana was still in the 1B tier.

Sramek was able to work with North Valley Hospital’s vaccine clinic to schedule appointments for approximately 25 qualifying staff members.

Then in early March when President Joe Biden’s administration fast tracked vaccines to teachers through the Federal Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination, Sramek began working with both Safeway pharmacy and Whitefish Pharmacy to secure vaccinations for district staff members.

According to Sramek, she was contacted by Matt Huston at the Whitefish Pharmacy who had reserved 40 COVID-19 vaccines for district staff and also would open his pharmacy during special hours for educators to be vaccinated. Safeway Pharmacy manager Jerod Vradenburg also reached out and they worked to create a direct scheduling link for teachers to easily make vaccination appointments.

“Prior to Jerod contacting me, it was a bit of frenzy for staff getting on the Safeway and Walgreens websites early each morning trying to get one of the few appointments,” she said. “We even had staff traveling to Polson where they could get an appointment.”

Through these efforts to make vaccination appointments for Whitefish educators, Sramek said she truly believes that most staff were able to receive their vaccines faster and in a less complicated manner than going at it alone.

“Securing vaccines for our staff has definitely been a community effort,” Sramek expressed. “I am so grateful to be a part of the Whitefish community where multiple organizations are working together to get our educators vaccinated.”

Bloom agreed, adding that over 125 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine were given to Whitefish School District educators prior to spring break. Sramek plans to continue to work with anyone in the district to secure appointments as the eligibility requirements for the vaccine open up to all Montanans 16 and older beginning April 1.

“I am not aware of any other school district who appointed a specific person as a school (COVID-19) coordinator that advocated vaccines for their staff at the appropriate times — we owe her a debt of gratitude,” Bloom said.

The school district formed its task force last spring when the coronavirus forced schools to close and it became apparent that the district would need an organized approach to manage procedures throughout the pandemic. Sramek says the most pressing task that she was involved with was creating the COVID-19 guidelines and procedures for the district and continuing to update them throughout the pandemic.