(Updated at 9:45 a.m.) FCPS is ramping up efforts to provide on-site testing and prepare for vaccinations for elementary school-aged kids, including by enlisting a third party that hasn’t been publicly identified yet.
Although the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved emergency use of COVID-19 vaccines for kids ages 5-11, Pfizer says its vaccine is safe for that age range, and it could obtain authorization in October.
That will open up vaccinations to an additional 87,693 FCPS students, according to Melanie Meren, who represents Hunter Mill District on the Fairfax County School Board.
As part of its preparations, FCPS is developing a survey for families to determine what their needs are and how it can best respond, Assistant Superintendent for Special Services Michelle Boyd said at a school board meeting on Thursday (Sept. 23).
The survey will ask questions such as:
- Whether parents would be okay with students getting vaccinated during the school day without their presence
- Whether they would be interested in participating in clinics with their children
- Whether they would prefer their primary medical provider to vaccinate students
Meren told FFXnow that the survey is a step in the right direction, but there needs to be more done.
She is proposing that FCPS work with community partners, including public health officials and medical providers, to develop a plan for how to use different resources like bloodmobile services to deliver vaccinations.
Her motion calls for convening “community stakeholders to plan for mass distribution of children’s vaccines in Fairfax County, so that vaccines are accessible to families in accordance with families’ personal decisions about vaccinating children.”
Meren noted that pediatricians’ offices are already overwhelmed, and she wants FCPS to look at ways to be best prepared, noting that schools have had to take on an unprecedented public health role.
“The school division is being tasked with really stepping up in ways that have never been seen before in terms of public health,” Meren said at the school board meeting.
Meren also proposed that the school board direct Brabrand to create a Department of Special Services staff position to help the assistant superintendent manage public health-related work in FCPS.
Since both items were introduced as new business, meaning that they weren’t up for discussion or action, the school board will address them at its next regular meeting on Oct. 7.
At the same time, FCPS is continuing to tackle issues related to its existing COVID-19 health procedures, primarily when it comes to disruptions to in-person learning.
“We’ve already got some kids entering their second quarantine,” FCPS Superintendent Brabrand said during the school board meeting. “28 days without a teacher or instruction is not something we can do.”
Out of roughly 178,000 students, FCPS has recorded 818 positive COVID-19 cases in August and September as of yesterday (Sunday).
While noting that student transmission of the virus is low, Brabrand reiterated at the school board meeting that FCPS is continuing to look at ways to improve its COVID-19 communication policies and procedures.
Braddock District School Board Representative Megan McLaughlin said she wants FCPS to show it’s serious about helping minimize the time that students are not in school, noting that Loudoun County Public Schools has reduced its mandated quarantine period from 14 to 10 days.
Fairfax County Health Director Dr. Gloria Addo-Ayensu recommended 14 days at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting last Tuesday (Sept. 21), stating that the 10-day alternative allowed by the CDC carries an estimated 10% increase in the risk of post-quarantine transmission.
Starting this week, FCPS is offering an online platform where students who have to be paused, quarantined, or isolated due to a COVID-19 infection or exposure can live-stream in-person classes.
However, FCPS has otherwise declined to expand its virtual options, despite requests from many community members, including several speakers who delivered remarks during the community participation portion of Thursday’s board meeting.
“We simply don’t have the staff,” Brabrand said. “We don’t even have the staff right now to operate full in person. We’re strained to provide staffing for the limited virtual that we have, per CDC guidelines for students with diagnosed medical and health needs.”
He added that the area school systems like Prince George’s and Arlington counties that have offered broader virtual programs have significant wait lists or are filling up to 40 to 50% of their staff positions with substitute teachers.