By TED TAYLOR
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
The second wave of Oregon’s COVID vaccine efforts will prioritize teachers and child care providers, paving the way for a more widespread reopening of schools, Gov. Kate Brown announced Tuesday.
“Our kids need to know they are number one, and that we’re doing everything we can to get them back in the classrooms,” Brown said in a virtual news conference. “Educators and school staff are without a doubt essential to Oregon, and getting our kids back into the classroom is crucial to all of our success.”
Brown and Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen met with the media to give an update on COVID and the vaccination efforts underway across the state.
The governor applauded Oregonians for heeding the call to limit social gatherings over Thanksgiving saying the efforts and two-week freeze “blunted the surge.” She encouraged them to do the same at Christmas and New Year’s.
“I hope you all heard that: thanks to the decisions you, and the majority of Oregonians continue to make, we are slowing the spread of this disease. And while our case counts are still up, we are avoiding many worst-case scenarios,” she said. “This is proof that we determine – we determine – how the next few months play out while we work to swiftly distribute the COVID-19 vaccine far and wide.,” she said.
Cases were down 11% last week compared to the previous week.
The state’s first priority for vaccinations is health care workers and seniors in long-term care facilities, where the first doses are currently being administered.
Through Sunday, Oregon has received 35,100 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with another 25,350 doses scheduled to arrive this week, according to the OHA.
The numbers show the 2-Week Pause, 2-Week Freeze, and the measures taken since blunted the virus surge we dreaded entering Thanksgiving.
Thanks to the decisions the majority of Oregonians continue to make, we are slowing the spread of COVID-19 and avoiding worst-case scenarios.
— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) December 22, 2020
Oregon also has received a shipment of 12,100 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, which received Emergency Use Authorization from the federal government over the weekend.
“Because the Moderna vaccine does not need to be stored at the same extremely cold temperatures as the Pfizer vaccine, it gives us the welcome advantages of more quantities of vaccines to provide to hospitals, with more flexibility in how we distribute them,” Allen said. “We’ll use the Moderna vaccines to reach hospitals and clinics that don’t have easy access to the ultra-cold storage facilities that the Pfizer vaccine requires, including more rural health care settings.”
And while Tuesday’s announcement about the next wave of vaccinations offers some hope to those wanting to see their kids back in a classroom, there’s no timetable on when that next phase would begin.
But when that happens, Brown said educators, school employees, and early learning providers would be considered “critical personnel” for Oregon.
The vaccine won’t be required for anyone, she said, but the OHA and other health departments would spend time in the coming weeks making sure everyone in Oregon had the facts about the vaccine.
A one-day special session of the legislature on Monday ended with the passage of an $800 million COVID relief bill that will include resources for schools.
Brown said districts need additional funding to help implement COVID protocols while counties expand testing and contact tracing efforts to ensure schools can reopen sooner rather than later.
Lawmakers on Monday also passed a bill that gives schools some protection against COVID-related lawsuits. Some feared the threat of such lawsuits would dampen a district’s desire to reopen if there was a fear of virus spread.
Bend State Rep. Cheri Helt told OPB the legislation was needed to give school districts the ability to reopen.
“If New York City can bring back their kids in schools, we can too,” she said.