Webb: Logistics of implementing vaccine mandate for teachers ‘a little more cumbersome’

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QUINCY — Quincy Superintendent Roy Webb heard the news Thursday morning about the vaccine mandate issued by Gov. JB Pritzker.

Now Webb must figure out how to implement that mandate.

The vaccine requirement goes into effect Sept. 5. It will apply to “all P-12 teachers and staff, all higher education personnel, all higher education students and health care workers in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, urgent care facilities and physician’s offices,” Pritzker said at a news conference in Chicago.

He added that, effective Sept. 5, people working in these settings who can’t or are unwilling to receive their first dose of vaccine must be tested for COVID-19 at least once a week. The governor said the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education may require more frequent testing in certain situations, like in an outbreak.

Webb said that he had a “real good understanding” of which teachers were vaccinated last year. He believes 75 to 80 percent of 1,110 staff members had the vaccine.

“We’ve had some turnover since then,” he said. “We have 35 new teachers, and I’m guessing about a 10 percent turnover.”

Webb said about 6,700 students are enrolled in the district.

Brandi Many, the teacher subgroup president of the Quincy Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Personnel, said in a text that the news is less than 24 hours old, and “I am still trying to gather information.”

Webb has not yet learned the state’s plan to track the number of vaccinated teachers or whether unvaccinated teachers have received a weekly COVID test.

“It’s very simple to say, ‘We’re going to do this and this,’” Webb said. “The logistics of this are a little more cumbersome.

“I think most of our staff is vaccinated. For those who don’t want to be, there is an option. But I don’t think they will be happy with it.” 

Webb doesn’t want to add that duty to the jobs of the district’s school nurses.

“It would overwhelm my nurses if it became their responsibility” Webb said. “If (the district) had to track it, maybe I have to go around with a clipboard and ask the teachers at every school.”

Jerrod Welch, public health administrator with the Adams County Health Department, says Quincy’s schools have the capability of in-house testing, but the school nurses are “completely strapped.” He says his staff is capable of conducting a maximum of 400 tests in a three-hour window, but the department has exceeded 300 tests “plenty of times” in the past month.

“Capacity-wise, we’re stretched,” Welch said. “We have the same 40-man staff that we had before COVID hit.”

Asked if the county health department is capable of helping enforce the vaccine mandate, Welch replied, “There hasn’t been a lot of discussion about that. We’re already breaking the health department right now. We make recommendations at the health department, but the enforcement of mask and vaccine mandates isn’t one of our jobs.”

The tracking system on the Adams County Health Department’s website indicates the number of active cases (a 10-day average of positive tests) was around 750 on Monday, Aug. 16. That figure dropped to a little more than 500 on Monday, though it has seen a small spike to a little more than 600 on Thursday.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that maybe we’ve peaked,” Welch said. “There’s data to support that, and an epidemiologist I recently talked with concurs.”

The health department’s immunization clinic is open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m.-noon and 1-4:30 p.m. 

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Thursday the state is seeing 220 hospital admissions per day. That number is on par with a surge in May. Pritzker said 98 percent of cases, 96 percent of hospitalizations and 95 percent of deaths since January have been among unvaccinated people.

Ezike said vaccines are the best defense.

“Wearing a mask continues to be one of the simplest, cheapest ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

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