TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – As school districts nationwide debate how to safely reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, many Hillsborough County teachers returned to the classroom six months ago.
“Throughout lessons, it’s hey let’s get those masks over our nose, let’s make sure we’re following the proper protocols,” Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association President Rob Kriete said of additional teacher responsibilities.
Even more students are back in the buildings for the second semester after the state encouraged students struggling with e-learning to return for in-person learning, Kriete said.
He told 8 On Your Side the state should have made educators eligible earlier in the vaccine rollout.
“They’ve answered the call to do what needed to be done here in Florida to open up our schools, to get parents the ability to go back to work,” Kriete said. “We just think its important that we get our teachers and support professionals vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Addison Davis said in a statement the new executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis is a “step in the right direction.”
“We’re glad that teachers are finally included in the vaccination plans rolled out by Governor DeSantis,” Kriete said.
Three days after expanding eligibility for high-risk Floridians under 65-years-old, K-12 school personnel, sworn law enforcement, and firefighters older than 50-years-old can now get in line for the COVID-19 vaccine.
“Our educators have worked tirelessly for our children during a pandemic and deserve to have this added protection as they continue to enter the classroom every single day,” Davis said in his statement. “We are working with our health partners to create a plan to offer vaccinations to our teachers ages 50 and older, and we look forward to all teachers being prioritized for these crucial vaccinations.”
HCPS previously worked with the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County and Tampa General Hospital to provide vaccinations for employees who are older than 65.
According to an HCPS spokesperson, there are 10,193 employees who are 50 or older districtwide.
Gov. DeSantis said he is expanding eligibility as the state could receive a shipment of 175,000 doses of the newly authorized, single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine as early as this week.
“And then with the schools we could probably do all of that 50 up K-12 personnel and police, fire with just our J&J shipment,” Gov. DeSantis said Monday. “And so we’re gonna continue to put seniors first.”
But many Tampa Bay seniors continue contacting 8 On Your Side because they are struggling to make an appointment. Connie Hutchins, 73, described every which way she has tried to get the vaccine.
“I’m signed up with Sarasota County, Manatee County,” she said. “I’m on the waiting list with Walgreens, I’ve tried CVS and Winn Dixie and Publix.”
High-risk Floridians are also reporting troubles with registering for a vaccine appointment since Friday’s executive order.
Hutchins said she plans to try again with Publix. The next opportunity to book a shot at one of their pharmacies starts at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.