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Gov. Inslee: Asking educators to return isn’t ‘asking more than we’ve asked for our grocery clerks’

Third grade teacher Cara Denison speaks to students while live streaming her class via Google Meet at Rogers International School on Nov. 19, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Gov. Inslee believes schools in Washington state can open safely now, and that students and educators can return to classrooms, and should, as he expressed in response to a question during a Tuesday press conference.

Washington Education Association asks to prioritize teachers for COVID vaccine

The governor was asked if his office had given thought to declaring a school employee vaccination day as a means of getting students back to the classroom faster, and letting all teachers, regardless of age, get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“No, we have not given consideration to that,” Gov. Inslee said, for a couple of reasons.

The first reason he gave is there’s a “mathematical equation” that must be faced, which is a “very difficult reality.” As he explained, if you vaccinate a 25-year-old teacher, then an older person doesn’t get a dose.

“The reality is if you give [a 25-year-old teacher] that vaccine, her 80-year-old grandmother doesn’t get it. And her … mother doesn’t get it,” Inslee said.

“So every teacher that is vaccinated today means one less 80, 90, 100, 70, 65-year-old person gets the vaccine,” he added. “And we don’t have enough vaccine for those folks. There’s 1.7 million people in that category of over 65, or over 50 in multigenerational housing, … and we’re only getting about 116,000 doses a week.”

He also added that part of deciding the priority with a limited amount of doses comes down to what will save the most lives.

“So while we have limited doses, we simply can’t do that today,” he said about vaccinating all teachers. “We hope to do that as soon as we can, and as I’ve indicated, we’re making real progress to accelerate the day when we can do that. And educators are in the tranche after we get through the folks of a certain age.”

“It’s a decision that we’re doing to save lives, and the way to save lives is to vaccinate the people whose lives actually are in danger,” he continued. “Nine out of 10 of the deceased are over 60 years of age. We are vaccinating teachers who are over 65, and those over 50 in multigenerational households today, but that’s the people who die. And it seems to me, I think the educators I know, think that we ought to vaccinate the people whose lives are at risk today, and that’s these people.”

That said, Inslee assured that the state is doing everything it can do speed up the vaccinations in Phase 1B, tier 1, in order to get to the next group and keep moving forward.

“Second thing: I believe that we can open up our schools safely, now, as long as we use proper hygiene and good systems,” Gov. Inslee continued. “We have proven this. We have proven this because there’s over 100,000 pupils in the state of Washington who have been doing this safely for months now. This is not an academic exercise — all you have to do is go to the schools around the state who are doing this successfully with minimal, very minimal, in-school transmission.”

“And so the fear of this is understandable, but it’s not backed up by our experience,” he said. “Because our experience is showing you can operate schools safely, we’re doing it all over the state of Washington today. And the reason we’re doing it is because educators are extremely smart, and very disciplined, and we have discovered ways to do this in a very safe way — spreading out the students, using masking, having cohorts, not allowing them to mix at recess. So the proof is in the pudding.”

Gov. Inslee said he thinks students can return to school safely, and he believes that ought to happen.

“I’m pleased that since we started our new metrics on this, we’ve had quite a few new schools that are going back to on-site learning, and I think that’s a joy both for educators and for students — and for parents — to be able to return,” he added.

Non-traditional classroom furniture plays role in back-to-school discussion

The third point the governor made is that there is no way to completely remove transmission risk.

“Now the third thing I will say is that there’s no zero risk,” Gov. Inslee said. “Anytime you step out of your living room, … there’s some risk, right? There’s no zero risk environment.”

To have educators go back to the classroom, Inslee said, is not asking anything more than what’s been asked of grocery clerks.

“We’ve asked our grocery clerks to go on site, and do their job, and as a result we have food to eat. We’re not asking any more than we ask of bus drivers, who have now gone into buses to make sure that we can commute,” he said. “It’s not anything more than we’ve asked from our child care providers, and they’ve stepped up to the plate, or the firefighters, or the police officers. So to the extent that communities do make the decision to go back to onsite learning, they’re asking educators no more than they have asked for the other parts of our community that keep us safe, and help our community thrive.”

Inslee did say he’s looking forward to the day when the state can move to the next tier and be able to vaccinate older educators who will then be eligible. Additionally, he shared a reminder that the state made a provision to allow for flexibility in later tiers.

“… Right now it’s set up so that educators, grocery clerks, agriculture workers, the people who feed us, over 50 would be in the next tranche,” he explained. “But we have added flexibility so that if you do have someone go out to the school, they can vaccinate everybody in the school who are actually at the school, educating people, regardless of age.”

“I’m hopeful that was one of the reasons that Bellevue has been able to find a way to agree to start going back to school in some of the early grades,” he added. “So I’m really hopeful we’re going to get there as soon as we can — it’s not today, but it’s coming.”

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