Gonzales Unified School District staff members sign in for a Covid-19 vaccination clinic on March 5, as teacher Fidencio Cuevas (right) oversees the check-in table outside Walgreens in Salinas. (Sean Roney/Staff)

SALINAS VALLEY — Schools throughout Monterey County began coordination with local hospitals, clinics and pharmacies to prepare for March 3, when educators and child care workers became eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine.

Among them was Gonzales Unified School District, which partnered with Walgreens for a faculty and classified staff vaccination clinic at the North Main Street Walgreens in Salinas on March 5.

Soledad Unified School District worked with Soledad Community Health Care District for a staff-wide clinic at the high school gym on March 8, and Greenfield Union School District coordinated with Mee Memorial Healthcare System for a staff-wide clinic in King City on March 8.

The clinic for King City Union School District is planned for March 12.

“We do have over 18,000 individuals in the TK to higher education sector,” said Deneen Guss, superintendent for Monterey County Office of Education. “We know it’s probably going to take the entire month of March, probably even longer, but we have a very good start.”

Guss said districts have clinics planned throughout the county. MCOE has worked to identify organizations that can partner with local schools to get the clinics rolling.

Educators with Gonzales Unified School District wait in line outside Walgreens in Salinas for a Covid-19 vaccination clinic. (Sean Roney/Staff)

Gonzales teachers contacted David Maynard, the vaccine lead for Walgreens, in order to organize the partnership for their district. The decision came when Walgreens received 200 doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine to administer in the area.

“When I got these doses and I had the discretion of what to do with them, I knew it would be a good fit for the Gonzales school district since there was a need here,” Maynard said.

He said Walgreens had been working with long-term care facilities, but the new doses and the new eligibility for educational workers allowed the pharmacy to reach out to local schools in addition to health care and emergency services personnel.

One of the first to get the Johnson & Johnson dose at the Walgreens clinic was Alexandria Arguilez, a teacher from the Gonzales district. She said her single-dose vaccine was painless.

“It’s such a relief to get it, especially because we’re looking at going back to teaching in person,” Arguilez said. “Getting it is a weight off your mind. This is what needs to get done before we go back in the classroom, to feel safe and be able to interact with our kids again and keep them safe.”

Tina Martinez, director of human resources at the Greenfield district, said Mee Memorial was helpful in the partnership and credited outpatient clinic director Heidi Pattison with setting things up smoothly.

More than 260 Greenfield staff members were scheduled to go to Mee Memorial to get their shots.

“Our staff miss the students and getting vaccinated is a step that will help prepare us for that day when our students do come back to school,” Martinez said.

The district sent out a survey to staff to gauge the interest in vaccinations, which is not a mandatory process, and Martinez said the response was largely positive.

“They were super excited and this was something they really want to do, not just for themselves but for their colleagues, their families, their communities,” she said.

Greenfield Union School District Superintendent Zandra Galvan is the first staff member to receive their Covid-19 vaccine at the Mee Memorial clinic in King City on Monday. (Sean Roney/Staff)

Greenfield Superintendent Zandra Galvan was the first employee to get vaccinated at Mee Memorial, who joked in line with her personnel about being the test subject to see about side effects. She then went in and live streamed her injection, which was near instantaneous, before giving a thumbs up and reminding other educators to get vaccinated for the benefit of their schools.

“This is another safety measure to make sure that folks are protected and that we have the safest environment for our staff,” Martinez said.

In terms of reopening, Martinez noted that such school districts as Greenfield have policies in place that they will follow. Vaccinations do not speed up those processes, but are part of the safety considerations.

In Greenfield’s case, a 75-member task force will make determinations on the safety of progressing toward school reopenings.

“Even though everyone’s vaccinated, it doesn’t mean things will happen faster,” Martinez said. “We’re going to make sure that we’re very strategic.”

While some clinics had staff line up at off-site locations, Soledad employees were able to get their vaccination at a large clinic set up inside the Soledad High School gymnasium.

Workers from both Soledad Unified School District and Soledad Community Health Care District set up the Soledad High School gym as a mass vaccination clinic March 8 in preparation for 600 school staff to be immunized. (Sean Roney/Staff)

Soledad Community Health Care District personnel coordinated with school staff to set up an eight-table vaccination site with a large 15-seat waiting area for those who received their jab to wait out the possibility of initial side effects.

The eight tables allowed for a mass setting to administer 3,000 doses in one day. However, in the Soledad educational setting, they instead allowed for nearly 600 doses to be administered more rapidly.

“This gives us the ability to have them come in quickly, get their vaccine, and exit,” said Ida Lopez Chan, CEO of Soledad Community Health Care District. “It’s a really swift and efficient process we have.”

Soledad’s partnership was a long time in the works, having been part of October plans by a Covid Distribution Work Group. They planned for more groups to become eligible for immunization once vaccines became available, and worked out how to meet the need of large-scale administering of doses.

“We wrote an extensive plan that will allow us to take this model and scale it up for a mass community vaccination,” Chan said. “As far as having my staff members here, it’s really a community service project.”

She added, “We’re proud to say that with every vaccine that we give, we’re living up to our mission, to anticipate and provide services to meet the health care needs of the people we serve.”

Soledad Community Health Care District CEO Ida Lopez Chan checks some of the supplies being set up inside the Soledad High School gymnasium as part of an upcoming vaccine clinic. (Sean Roney/Staff)
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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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