CEDAR RAPIDS — Sandra Byard felt hopeful and saw “a light at the end of the tunnel” as she and other Linn County school nurses and health secretaries received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine this week.

While the Cedar Rapids schools health services facilitator wishes teachers and other school staff were also receiving the COVID-19 vaccine now, each person who is vaccinated makes the world a little safer, she said.

“We know they’re all at risk,” Byard said. “We’re hopeful the vaccine distribution can be speeded up because it’s not going to be a short process.”

School nurses qualify for phase 1A of the state’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Phase 1B, which will begin Feb. 1, includes K-12 teachers, school staff and child care workers, along with first responders and people 65 years old and older.

One hundred vaccines were able to be distributed from the Cedar Rapid’s Educational Leadership and Support Center, 2500 Edgewood Rd. NW, Cedar Rapids, this week because of the Metro Care Connection school-based services, Byard said. The vaccines were for school nurses and health secretaries in Linn County, including Cedar Rapids schools, College Community, Linn-Mar, and Mount Vernon community school districts.

Any leftover doses were allocated to anyone in the 1A group who has yet to receive the vaccine, Byard said.

Forty-five Cedar Rapids school nurses and health secretaries received the vaccine.

“The vaccine is over 90 percent effective, but there still is a chance of getting the virus. We will continue our mitigation strategies,” Byard said.

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After the pandemic is over, Byard says the district will keep isolation barriers in the health offices at the schools for students who have respiratory symptoms.

School nurses also will continue to wear a mask while interacting with students with respiratory symptoms.

“We want to be proactive,” Byard said.

Sixteen College Community School District nurses and health secretaries also stopped by the Educational Leadrship and Support Center last week to get the vaccine.

Colleen Elliott, supervisor of health services, said while this is a “bright spot,” school nurses are still on the front lines of the pandemic, and will continue to wear masks and other personal protective equipment.

“We’re all weary of this and want it to be over so we can educate kids in the safest way possible,” Elliott said.

School nurses are responsible for calling parents and guardians to let them know if a student is exposed to COVID-19 and need to quarantine for 14 days.

“We are the bearer of that kind of news and it is not an easy task to do,” she said.

The Cedar Rapids district has seen an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff when they returned to school in January after winter break, Byard said.

Cedar Rapids schools had 56 students and 26 staff in quarantine and 12 students and nine staff who tested positive for COVID-19, as of Friday.

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Elliott attributes the large number of students in the College Community School District under quarantine to sports.

“They’re exposed during activities like basketball and swimming,” she said. “If you’re having a scrimmage of 10 kids, and they’re not wearing masks then all of them are quarantined.”

The district had 113 students and staff in quarantine and 13 who tested positive for COVID-19, as of Thursday. The 113 students and staff in quarantine is down from 283 a week ago.

Linn-Mar Community School District has 184 students and around 35 staff in quarantine as of Friday. Fewer than six students and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 in the district’s elementary schools, intermediate and middle schools and high schools.

The district is not identifying the number of cases in each building if it is fewer than six for confidentiality purposes.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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