MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. — Montgomery County has partnered with Johns Hopkins Medicine (JHM) to start vaccinating teachers and eligible staff this week, in an effort to reopen schools. Maryland provided 8,775 doses to JHM to vaccinate Montgomery County residents who are older than 65 who and have received care from JHM providers within the last two years as well as MCPS employees.
Employees who are eligible will be identified by MCPS and referred to JHM for appointment scheduling. People who meet these criteria will be contacted via email by JHM when a vaccine appointment is available.
“We are excited about this partnership because working together, we can have a more effective vaccination strategy," County Executive Marc Elrich said. “With the vaccine in such limited supply, we need to work together to reach as many of the eligible populations as quickly as possible.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has made his desire to reopen all state schools as soon as possible crystal clear. In a press conference last Thursday, he called on all county school systems to return to hybrid in-person instruction no later than March 1, noting that he had granted all school districts the authority to do so back in August.
"It's critical we work to get all students back to classrooms," Hogan said. "This really isn't controversial. The science is clear."
Hogan reiterated that reopening schools was not only a top priority of the state of Maryland, but for the Biden administration, as the president signed an executive order Thursday supporting the safe reopening of schools.
Earlier in the month, Montgomery County Public School's Board of Education voted to push back the start of in-person learning to March 15, at the earliest. The school district's metrics for returning to classrooms are a test positivity rate below 5% or a case rate of 15 per 100,000 residents or less; currently, those metrics sit at 6.1% and 36.1, respectively.
"The vaccine offers a significant level of prevention against acquiring COVID-19 and increases the level of safety for staff and students,” MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said. “Providing access to the vaccine to our employees is a crucial step toward a return to a level of normalcy for all of us and a return to in-person instruction.”
Hogan pointed to other areas in the country that have compelled teachers to return to schools. In Chicago, the governor said, pay has been cut off for teachers refusing to come back to classrooms. He added that South Carolina has threatened to take away licenses for teachers who make a similar decision, while Ohio will only offer vaccines to instructors in school systems that commit to continuing or beginning in-person learning.
"If school systems do not immediately begin a good faith effort to return to the classrooms, we will explore every legal avenue at our disposal," Hogan said. "The time has come to get all of our kids back into the classroom and to reopen our schools.”
Some teachers and education staff in Montgomery County have reported being turned away for vaccines, as the county priorities vaccines for residents 75 and older. Stephanie Jones, a support specialist at Takoma Park Middle School, was able to make an online appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at the White Oak Community Center on Monday, but when she arrived, she was quickly rejected from getting the vaccine.
"She asked me for my work ID," Jones said. "I showed her my school ID and she said 'Nope. We're not doing educators. You've gotta go back.' And I was like really?"
Jones says she's baffled to hear that schools will be expected to reopen by March if school teachers and staff aren't able to get their vaccinations.
As of Tuesday, providers in Maryland have administered 396,661 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, including 75.9% of first doses and 59.4% of first and second doses. The seven-day average of doses administered is 18,715 — that's an increase of 54% over the last two weeks.
To see a full breakdown of who is currently eligible for vaccines in Montgomery County, and how to pre-register, visit the county's COVID-19 vaccine page here.