A collective sigh of relief was heard among Watauga County’s teachers and public school employees as they received their first COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, February 24 at the Watauga Community Recreation Center.
Earlier this month, Governor Roy Cooper announced that childcare workers and pre-K to 12th grade school employees would be eligible for the vaccine under Group 3 of the state’s phased rollout process.
Appalachian Regional Healthcare System (ARHS), AppHealthCare (Appalachian District Health Department), and Watauga County Schools immediately started working together to determine how to vaccinate the remainder of registered seniors and move on to school staff.
Sean Burroughs, Director of Pharmacy for ARHS, said, “I’m so pleased with the progress of our community’s vaccine rollout to the senior population, and thrilled to be able to vaccinate K-12 Watauga school employees and childcare workers this week.”
ARHS and AppHealthCare were able to vaccinate nearly 600 childcare and school employees in a single day, due to the spacious and easy-to-access location at the Recreation Center. Those who didn’t receive their shot this week will be eligible to sign up for future clinics through ARHS or AppHealthcare.
“It’s incredibly exciting to know that we’ve made it this far, and that we are able to provide this level of protection for our teachers and staff,” said Dr. Scott Elliott, Watauga County Schools Superintendent, who received his vaccine along with his wife Laura, a middle school teacher at Parkway School.
“I cannot thank ARHS and AppHealthCare enough for their great partnership, their advocacy for our educators, and for making this so easy,” Elliott continued. “With every educator who is vaccinated we add another layer of protection for our entire community. Suddenly it feels like we’re beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Parkway School teacher Lauren Collier came to the clinic with her son, John, in tow. “I feel great!” she said. “It feels great knowing that I am doing everything I can to help us as a community move through this pandemic. Knowing that this step will keep my son and family, my colleagues, and my students safe is important. I am blessed for this opportunity.”
Traci Hartley, Data Manager at Valle Crucis said, “I am so grateful and excited for this opportunity. I was shocked that it’s happening so fast. I have two very high-risk family members that we protect.” Hartley’s husband is a cancer survivor and her daughter has Cystic Fibrosis.
Scott Carter, Principal at Cove Creek school was vaccinated with his wife, also a Watauga County Schools employee. “I am excited to protect our teachers and to bring kids back safely to our schools,” he said. “We have missed them terribly. I’m also very ready to see my great grandmother who lives in a nursing home.
Hardin Park teacher Corrie Freeman said she was feeling hopeful. “This is an avenue back to normal for my kids, me and our community. I feel like I can take a deep breath. I just appreciate all the volunteers, ARHS and AppHealthCare for being here today and helping us do this together. This whole operation is very impressive.”
School nurses Ashley Greene (Parkway) and Amanda Combs (Cove Creek) were on site, along with the county’s other school nurses, helping to give vaccinations. Both were honored to be a part of the effort. “It’s amazing to be here and to witness teachers being vaccinated in addition to kids coming back to our schools. It’s a comfort – we are going to be ok!” Combs said.
School employees across the state proudly posted their vaccine photos on social media using the hashtag #sleevesup4students.
Adults age 65 and older continue to be eligible for vaccine appointments, as well as remaining childcare workers and pre-K through 12th grade school employees. According to the NC Department of Health and Human Services, on March 10 North Carolina plans to move to additional frontline essential workers who work in-person at their place of work.
For more information about receiving a vaccine visit the following websites:
Watauga and Avery Counties
Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany Counties
Avery, Mitchell, and Yancey Counties
For more information about ARHS’s COVID-19 efforts, including testing and vaccines, visit apprhs.org/covid19.