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Missouri health director: No plan to move teachers to front of vaccine line

Missouri health director: No plan to move teachers to front of vaccine line

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Gov. Mike Parson talks about the coronavirus and special session

Randall Williams, director of the department of health and senior services, puts on a mask in honor of the Blues leaving for Edmonton during a press conference outside of the Governor's office at the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City on Monday, July 27, 2020. Williams provided an update on the state's COVID-19 testing and urged the younger population to continue social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. Photo by Colter Peterson, cpeterson@post-dispatch.com

O'FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri has no plans to move teachers higher on the list for COVID-19 vaccinations, instead focusing on getting shots to older people and those with serious illnesses, the state’s health director said Thursday.

“Those people who are more likely to get sick, and bluntly, to pass away if they get COVID, continue to be the governor’s focus and my focus and all of our focus,” Dr. Randall Williams said during Gov. Mike Parson’s weekly media briefing.

“So the answer is that’s what’s guiding us and will continue to guide us,” Williams said.

Several states, including neighboring Kansas and Illinois, have already begun vaccinating teachers, deeming school staff as frontline essential workers. But in Missouri, teachers are classified in the state’s Phase 1-B, tier 3.

The state is currently allowing shots for those in Phase 1-B, Tier 2, which includes those 65 and older or with compromised immune systems due to illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Williams has said the goal for beginning Phase 1-B, Tier 3 vaccinations is mid- to late-April.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that five recent state teachers of the year wrote to Williams requesting that school staff members move up on the vaccine priority list. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden said during a town hall on CNN on Tuesday that teachers should be moved to the front of the line.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last week a roadmap for getting students back to classrooms. It said that in-person schooling can resume safely with masks, social distancing and other strategies, but vaccination of teachers, while important, is not a prerequisite for reopening.

Missouri vaccinators have administered 940,000 doses and should reach the 1 million mark by the end of the week, Parson said. Among the recent recipients are Parson and his wife, Teresa. Parson said both received shots of the Pfizer vaccine last week in Cole County and are no worse for the wear except for sore arms.

Parson cited data suggesting that the St. Louis region is getting its share of vaccine, despite complaints from some regional leaders suggesting otherwise. He said the metropolitan area that includes St. Louis city and St. Louis, Jefferson and St. Charles County makes up 31% of the state’s population and has received 31.4% of Missouri’s vaccine allocation.

Parson cited vastly improving data on the coronavirus. He said the seven-day average for new cases is the lowest since June, while hospitalizations also have dropped off sharply.

The state health department on Thursday reported 718 newly confirmed cases, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 473,459. The state also reported 225 new deaths, bringing the pandemic total to 7,695.

Each week the state health department conducts a review to find previously unreported deaths. This week’s review found one additional death each from July, August and October, six from November, 51 from December and 126 from January, in addition to 32 earlier in February and seven new deaths.

In suburban St. Louis, a Catholic high school has agreed to limit spectators at sports events and enforce mask wearing regulations following complaints from the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The Archdiocese cited a packed gym at St. Pius X High School in Jefferson County when the boys basketball team defeated Jefferson R-7 65-55 on Feb. 12. A letter sent to parents Wednesday from St. Pius X President Jim Lehn said while the passion to support the school’s teams is understandable, “we must work together to address concerns related to COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of our entire school community.”

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