Greater New Haven districts, health departments scramble to vaccinate thousands of school employees

Photo of Mark Zaretsky
The Hamden High School gymnasium will be the where the town will begin mass vaccinations of school employees.

The Hamden High School gymnasium will be the where the town will begin mass vaccinations of school employees.

Peter Hvizdak / Hearst Connecticut Media

With tens of thousands of teachers and other school employees about to become eligible for coronavirus vaccines Monday at the same time that hundreds of thousands 55- to 64-year-olds are added to the mix, local school administrations and health departments are scrambling to get ready.

Among other measures, New Haven will offer onsite COVID-19 vaccination clinics to public and parochial school staff beginning Wednesday, along with a specific vaccination clinic for First Student Bus Co., tentatively set for March 10.

The Health Department also will hold mass vaccination clinics for New Haven school staff and day care providers at Career High School on March 20, 24 and 31, with vaccinations by appointment only, and, working with Fair Haven Community Health Center, will set up a mass vaccination center in Wilbur Cross High School.

West Haven will vaccinate all Board of Education employees plus those from Notre Dame High School and St. Lawrence School in a new vaccination clinic at the University of New Haven.

Hamden, working with the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center, will open a private vaccination center for schools employees in the Hamden High School gymnasium.

Meanwhile, the East Shore District Health Department, working with boards of education and town administrations in East Haven, Branford, North Branford, Guilford and Madison, will set up a dedicated school employee vaccination center at Branford High School, in addition to smaller clinics it already runs at senior centers in the five communities.

Most area communities also have struck up partnerships with area health care agencies, including Yale New Haven Health, Fair Haven Community Health Center, Connecticut Hospice and Community Health Center of Middletown.

Area municipalities and school systems have been working for months on their plans, only to have to change them at the last minute earlier this week when education workers and those over 55 were moved to the front of the line and people with preexisting conditions were moved back.

In a memo this week, the state Department of Public Health advised local health departments to prioritize this group over the general public.

Even on Friday, things remained in flux.

As of 2 p.m., New Haven Superintendent of Schools Iline Tracey said the New Haven Public Schools “in collaboration with the Health Department, will be sharing a plan with the school staff of the rollout for the vaccine.”

But she had yet to receive it at that point, she said.

A couple of hours later, Mayor Justin Elicker said the city would make vaccination clinics available to teachers and school staff within the schools.

“We will be doing vaccinations in schools for education staff,” he said.

Right now, not every New Haven school is open, as the school district is phasing students back into schools by grade. Elicker said the city is looking into including special sites for other school-based staff who may be itinerant or employed by entities outside the Board of Education.

Soon afterward, the city issued a release detailing its plan to vaccinate teachers, education staff and child care professionals.

“It is so important that every member of our community gets vaccinated,” the release said. “As we implement the Governor’s next phase of vaccine rollout, our team will be working hard to vaccinate paraprofessionals, custodians, food service workers, teachers and other school staff.

“I want to thank our team at the Health Department for their tireless work to get New Haveners vaccinated and save lives,” said Elicker.

In addition, local partner Fair Haven Community Health Center will open a mass vaccination site operating every Tuesday through Friday at Wilbur Cross High School, with dedicated appointments for school and early childhood staff starting March 3, it said.

FHCHC and Cornell Scott Hill-Health Center each plan to offer vaccines for school staff through their respective school-based health centers, it said. Yale New Haven Health System also will offer vaccines for school staff through dedicated appointments at its clinic locations.

“Thank you, public health nurses, for answering the call throughout the pandemic and again as we transition to vaccinating eligible school and daycare professionals,” said New Haven Health Director Maritza Bond. “This is a vital step in our efforts to move from part-time hybrid learning to full-time classroom learning for New Haven’s students and their families.”

School and day care staff will be contacted by the Health Department with information on how to register for these dedicated clinics.

Aside from school staff, beginning Monday, eligible individuals over the age of 55 can call 1-877-918-2224 to schedule an appointment. New Haven residents are encouraged to call 203-639-2245 to schedule an appointment.

West Haven Superintendent of Schools Neil C. Cavallaro said that city’s district went through every department in the school district, all positions. “We didn’t prioritize teachers, administrators or the superintendent . ... We went for the oldest person to the youngest person.”

Officials did the same with staff at Notre Dame High School, St. Lawrence School and the Winkle Bus company, as well as athletic coaches.

“Obviously, teachers are very important, the food service workers worked during the pandemic, bus drivers are very important,” but “I had a brief meeting with all the union leaders and said, ‘This is the fairest way to do it,’ and all agreed,” he said.

They began by inoculating 80 people Friday at the Johnson Community Center, and the city now plans to set up a dedicated vaccination center at UNH, Cavallaro said.

By time they’re through, they will have vaccinated a total of 820 people, he said.

“If there are dedicated sites for education employees, that will free up a lot of spots for regular people” in the other vaccination centers, Cavallaro said.

In Hamden, school officials have teamed with the Cornell Scott Hill Health Center to “be our support” for the vaccination efforts, said Superintendent of Schools Jody Goeler.

“I started a vaccination task force back in December,” Goeler said. “We looked at all of our buildings, where we could provide delivery systems.”

Hamden Public Schools will vaccinate “anyone who works with children, anyone who has contact with children,” including those who provide day care, he said. Anyone involved in education or child care “who wants to attend our closed clinic is welcome to do so,” he said.

But while Cornell Scott Hill Health Center is “ready to go” and “they have the people .... I’m being told that the allotments aren’t coming through to the state,” Goeler said.

“In order for us to do it, we would need at least 400 vaccines or anywhere up to 1,000 vaccines, and I’m told that the supplies are just not coming in,” he said. “Cornell Scott put in a request for 1,500 vaccines for next week and what they’re getting is far, far less than that.”

Pascucilla said his department plans to vaccinate 1,250 education employees next week in the five towns, and will continue staffing its vaccination clinics in area senior centers while it ramps up the efforts in the schools.

“By next Saturday, we’re going to have 250 teachers in each school district in the five towns vaccinated. That’s our plan for this coming week, and then next week we’ll have to see what our allocation is,” Pascucilla said.

“While schools are prioritized, we’re still doing some level of vaccinations in our senior centers,” he said.

But “we go from week to week based on our state allocation,” Pascucilla said.

While East Shore District is the health department for Branford, East Haven and North Branford, it also is responsible for vaccinations in Guilford and Madison under the state Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 organization plan.

Like West Haven, it will give preference according to age, Pascucilla said.

“We’re trying to find a balance between doing educators and trying to do the most vulnerable populations,” he said.

This coming week, East Shore plans to vaccinate 250 teachers and education employees in each of the five towns, including 100 school personnel each from Guilford and Madison on Monday, 250 in North Branford on Tuesday, 100 from Branford on Wednesday, 100 from Madison on Thursday and 250 from East Haven, 50 from Madison, 150 from Guilford and 150 from Branford on Saturday, Pascucilla said.

To help subsidize the work it’s doing, East Shore has struck up a series of partnerships, including with Fair Haven Health Care and Community Health Care, he said. In the coming days, “CVS also will be coming on line in this area,” he said.

But ultimately, “Everything is going to depend on the number of doses we get,” he said.

mark.zaretsky@hearstmediact.com