The Cherokee County School District, with the Cherokee County Health Department and the state Department of Public Health, is offering another opportunity to employees who have not yet gotten a COVID-19 vaccine and wish to do so.

So far, 20 employees responded to a school district survey to request vaccines and the district is scheduling appointments for them this week, CCSD spokesperson Barbara Jacoby told the Tribune. Appointments may be scheduled out further if needed.

CCSD is not requiring employees to report vaccination status, and doesn’t have an official count. But in March, the district’s first two-day vaccination event in March with the state and local health departments saw 2,850 appointments to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and the next week there were “several hundred” appointments, Jacoby said. CCSD started the school year with 6,202 employees, according to information on the district website.

Before educators were widely authorized to receive COVID-19 vaccines in Georgia, school police, nurses, and people 65 and older were eligible for priority appointments through the state health department or Northside Hospital Cherokee. And an “unknown number” of CCSD employees got vaccines early because they were caregivers for an elderly person, or traveled to neighboring states that opened eligibility to teachers earlier, Jacoby said. Others made independent appointments later, preferring either the two-shot Pfizer or Moderna vaccine to the one-shot Johnson & Johnson.

And last week, Superintendent Brian Hightower asked parents directly to consider getting vaccinated against the virus.

“Over the past 18 months, I have asked you to join us in keeping our schools open. I personally believe that our best defense against COVID-19, as individuals and as a community as a whole, is vaccination,” he said in the district’s newsletter Thursday. “I have been vaccinated, and I strongly encourage and recommend everyone who is eligible also be vaccinated. The website offers an easy to use search tool to help you find the closest provider with vaccines in stock.”

Fifty-eight percent of eligible residents in Cherokee are fully vaccinated, Hightower said, up from 52% a month ago. As of Monday, 46% of the county’s overall population was fully vaccinated, according to Georgia DPH.

Although cases of the coronavirus have declined in the Cherokee County School District in recent weeks, some school visits are postponed until at least Oct. 1, Hightower told families.

Extended school visits have been postponed twice since school started, Hightower said in the district’s newsletter Thursday, and are again postponed until Oct. 1 “with the cautious hope that the decline in cases will continue and not be deterred by our upcoming fall break.”

Parents may visit schools to do business at the front office, and some visitors may briefly visit classrooms, such as a recent Northside Hospital Cherokee educator nurse who “shared a healthy habit and passed out information,” school district spokesperson Barbara Jacoby said. Volunteers can also work in the front office and other areas where there aren’t classes, such as media centers. “Extended” visits include a parent eating lunch with their student, hosting classroom parties and participating in special school events, Jacoby said.

In addition to increasing substitute teacher pay to $150 a day, Hightower said since last month’s school board meeting, he has encouraged schools to space students out in lunchrooms and further encouraged the use of masks in COVID-19 notification letters to parents.

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Shannon Ballew is the managing editor at the Cherokee Tribune and the Cherokee Ledger-News. She is a graduate of Young Harris College and lives in unincorporated Woodstock.

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