CDC Director advises schools to reopen amidst the deaths of three Cobb Educators
Comments about teachers and vaccines from Center for Disease Control (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky did more to aggravate an already shaky condition than calm it. Speaking to reporters during a recent press briefing, Walensky offered a statement that angered many educators as well as their union representatives.
“But I also want to be clear that there is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated in order to reopen safely,” she said.
As the mounting number of lives lost in America to COVID-19 heightens, our community has sat powerless as the coronavirus claimed the lives of three education professionals employed by Cobb County, with two of those educators working right here in South Cobb. Teachers, parents, and members of the community are concerned with what may be perceived as a cavalier attitude for the safety of educators following the loss of lives in our community.
Teacher Patrick Key of Hendricks Elementary School died on Christmas. Later, two others would lose their battle to live on the same day. Paraprofessional Cynthia Lindsey of Sedalia Park Elementary School and teacher Dana Johnson of Kemp Elementary School passed away within hours of each other. Each tragedy impacts the immediate families of these teachers, but is also felt by fellow educators, the children that were under their care, and our entire community. During what was supposed to be a moment of silence to honor Keys at a school board meeting, Superintendent Ragsdale and two board members refused to wear masks, which left many educators wondering about their commitment to stopping the COVID-19 spread.
The push for in-person learning at Cobb County schools has drawn the ire of educators and the local teachers’ union, who have protested being essentially forced to work with no access to the vaccine, while having provable, valid personal health conditions and concerns. Many educators took to the streets to protest what they believe is indifference to their safety and insensitivity by the Cobb County School Board in the wake of these educators losing their lives to COVID-19. Though they have been unrelenting in their demands for vaccines, Walensky stressed that “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools”.
Perhaps, we are all in agreement that the COVID crisis, and the governmental management – or mismanagement – of the global pandemic, has left many of us reeling. We have been forced to watch death tolls continue to climb to horrific levels, which this time last year seemed unimaginable. Government disinformation, along with fear, broken promises, failed leadership, and the overall uncertainty of it all have played into this disaster more than a little. When the coronavirus first appeared last year, we were misled in thinking we did not need masks to protect ourselves, that we could carry on as usual with our activities, and that the virus would disappear by the summer. A year later and over a half million lives lost, we finally have a mandate in place requiring masks on all public transportation and in federal buildings, which was just issued in January.
The last three months saw vaccines developed, rushed through testing, and approved as quickly as reasonably possible. According to the CDC, more than 28 million Americans were vaccinated in the first of what will need to be many vaccination waves, considering the total population of our massive nation. Where do educators fit into this vaccination wave? Some are demanding that they be at the front of the line, especially if they are being pushed to return to in-person teaching.
Throughout the US, vaccine distribution had been left strictly up to the state to manage under the previous president, leaving all 50 states with 50 different outcomes and best practices not routinely shared or adopted. President Joe Biden pledged to unify the government’s efforts in battling the deadly virus, with the federal government working more closely with private companies who created and essentially controlled the vaccines. His pledge incudes increasing the administering of 1 million shots a day to 1.5 million, which should speed up the process of getting Americans vaccinated.
The process cannot go quickly enough for educators in Cobb. As Cobb County schools enjoy their winter break, Superintendent Chris Ragsdale has urged staff, students and parents to continue to follow COVID-19 best practices to reduce the spread while on break.
The current number of cases in the US stands at over 37.9 million and climbing. The introduction of new variants across the country impacts that number. In Georgia, we stand at 945 thousand, but that number continues to grow each day. Cobb is ranked as one of the top five counties within the state dealing with the pandemic with 67,508 COVID-19 cases and 861 COVID-19 deaths, which includes the educators from South Cobb. These numbers continue to increase daily.