People, Seriously, Get The Damn COVID Vaccine. Especially Teachers.
Two teachers and a teaching assistant from Broward County, Florida, died from COVID-19 within the same 24-hour period last week. They were all unvaccinated.
According to Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco, the three teachers were Janice Wright, 48, from Pinewood Elementary School; Katina Jones, 49, from Dillard Elementary School; and Yolanda Hudson Williams, 49, a teaching assistant at Dillard Elementary.
Wright, who taught special education, had planned to get the vaccine just before contracting the disease. Her friend, Katrina Whittaker, told reporters Friday that Wright was diligent about wearing face masks and doesn't understand why she didn't get the vaccine during the months it was available. She claims she's still haunted by one of her last conversations with Wright, who was dealing with symptoms from the virus.
"She asked me 100 questions about the shot and that's why I was shocked," Whittaker said. "I was like, 'Don't worry about it. You've got the shot, right?' She said, 'No, I was going to get it this week.'"
Wright didn't seem stubbornly anti-vax. She likely labored under misinformation about the vaccine's safety, as well as the significant threat from the Delta variant. Now, she's gone, and the people responsible for the misinformation probably feel little remorse.
Pediatric cases of COVID-19 are rising in Broward County just as children return to school. The vaccine is only available to children 12 and older, so elementary school children are especially at risk. Broward County's school board members recently defied GOP Governor Ron DeSantis and implemented a universal mask mandate without his opt-out option for people who don't understand science or public health.
"We're living out the nightmare of the Covid pandemic, where so many people in our county, including members of our staff and others, are being impacted," said Rosalind Osgood, who heads the school board, on the CBS program "Face the Nation."
Whittaker, also a Broward County public school teacher, said Wright supported the mask mandate and was preparing to return to school next week when she fell ill. Her students will miss her.
"She loved her job," Whittaker said. "She loved teaching."
Wright loved her students enough that she probably would've gotten vaccinated sooner if had been mandated months ago. I was fully vaccinated by May, well before the previous school year ended. Florida's vaccination rate has lagged compared to the rest of the nation, which is a tremendous failure of statewide leadership. DeSantis spent his summer vacation fighting critical race theory and selling anti-mask merchandise on his campaign site.
Teachers unions had resisted a vaccine mandate for educators until very recently. The New York State United Teachers Union released a statement in early August opposing mandated vaccinations of K-12 school staff.
"We have advocated since the beginning of the year that any educator who wants a vaccine should have easy access to one," the NYSUT statement said. "What we have not supported is a vaccine mandate."
That's shockingly similar to Republican rhetoric about vaccines. It's also fucking annoying, because this should've been settled late last year when we knew a vaccine was on the way. There should've been no debate, especially since elementary school students wouldn't be eligible for the vaccine. The teachers would have to step up. They already eat lunch in the school cafeteria. They aren't new to risk.
The National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, endorsed COVID-19 vaccine requirements for school workers on Thursday, just as schools were having grand openings followed by grand closings due to COVID-19 outbreaks. The timing is hardly flawless, but perhaps with the urgency of a mandate, schools can do their part in avoiding more preventable deaths.
Why must America always do everything the hard way?
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."