McHenry County school districts ready to help with next phase of COVID-19 vaccine rollout including teachers, but awaiting health department guidance

Woodstock School District 200 puts out call for nurses, pharmacists willing to volunteer for its vaccine rollout

Woodstock School District 200 began trying to recruit local nurses and pharmacists Thursday to volunteer to help at clinics where the COVID-19 vaccine will be given to educators and staff members in the school system.

The request made over social media for health care professionals to assist the school district in its bid to get its staff vaccinated generated some interest right away and was made following a directive from the McHenry County Department of Health, District 200 spokesman Kevin Lyons said.

More than a dozen community members expressed desire to volunteer within a few hours of the social media posts asking for help with rolling out the inoculations.

Woodstock’s public school system may not be the only in the area to play a role in ramping up vaccine distribution.

“The hope is that at least some of the larger districts can host their own clinics and with the use of volunteers be able to distribute the vaccine more rapidly,” Lyons said. “District 200 would be happy to host such a clinic for its employees and those from surrounding schools if county health officials deem that appropriate.”

Officials are discussing whether to have smaller school districts, whose communities may not have as large of a pool of medical professionals qualified to handle vaccinations, work with the larger school systems that may handle their own staff vaccination plans.

Both Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155 and Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 are open to helping with the vaccination efforts, spokeswomen for each school system said Thursday. The area’s health care workers and residents and personnel in long-term and congregate care settings are eligible to receive their doses before other frontline essential workers like teachers and school staffs.

But those school districts are awaiting further guidance from the McHenry County health department on the steps they should take now to be prepared to move quickly once shots are available to teachers and other non-health care front-line essential workers in the community, such as emergency responders, public transit employees and manufacturing workers, as part of Phase 1b of the state’s vaccination schedule.

“District 47 is ready and willing to assist in any way to help expedite the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine; however, the McHenry County health department is the lead on this and is managing this process,” said Denise Barr, a spokeswoman for the Crystal Lake elementary and middle school system.

The state is set to begin Phase 1b, which will allow residents 65 and older to get vaccinated in addition the non-health care essential workers, on Monday.

The McHenry County health department still was working this week on getting needles into the arms of health care and congregate care staff and residents, spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said in a Tuesday phone interview.

Salvatelli did not respond to follow-up questions this week that included inquiries into when the area may begin to vaccinate teachers and school staff and others eligible under Phase 1b.

The health department is holding clinics for those eligible for the vaccine right now three days a week most weeks, Salvatelli said. There is not enough supply of the vaccine locally to offer shots more often at the moment.

Time slots are being filled quickly once they are announced, Salvatelli said. People have even been booted out of the online vaccine registration system because of large numbers of users navigating it at one time, she said.

“We were receiving complaints from people who were getting kicked out,” Salvatelli said, adding that the department sends web links to register to those eligible.

The Northwest Herald asked Salvatelli for more details on the rollout Tuesday, including how long it could be before vaccinations are offered more often than just several days a week, but had not received an answer by 6 p.m. Thursday.

Since receiving the vaccine, she said, the local health department has been given different sets of recommendations by federal authorities for storing the drug supply to prevent theft. The department has remained vigilant in protecting and storing the vaccine due to potential security concerns, she said.

The McHenry County health department is administering the vaccine for some congregate care facilities, Salvatelli said.

Some long-term care facilities have opted to go through CVS or Walgreens to get shots for their staff and residents, she said. Those pharmacy businesses have been working with the federal government to coordinate vaccinations across the country for congregate care workers and residents eligible to get shots right now.

Following the 850,000 Illinoisans qualifying for vaccines under the current Phase 1a, 1.3 million people qualify as front-line essential workers and 1.9 million adults age 65 and older who will be able to get vaccinated under the Phase 1b criteria, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Sam Lounsberry

Sam Lounsberry covers local government, business, K-12 education and all other aspects of life in McHenry County, in particular in the communities of Woodstock, McHenry, Richmond, Spring Grove, Wonder Lake and Johnsburg.