With a little more than a month left until all state and public school employees are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, less than 30% of employees at Chehalis and Centralia school districts have been confirmed to have received their shots.
Leaders at local school districts are currently in the process of gauging how much of their workforce has been vaccinated in the leadup to the deadline, so the latest estimates are far from final. Religious and medical exemptions are available for many workers.
Centralia Superintendent Lisa Grant said this week that about 30% of the district’s 500 employees have verified that they’ve received the vaccine. About three religious or medical exemptions had been turned in, she said.
"I think it's all over the board. I think there is a mix and range of emotions with this," Grant told The Chronicle after a school board meeting this week.
“It's tough. For some people, it's a tough and emotional decision. So, (it’s about) how do we help them and support them in that process.”
Grant said the district has set an Oct. 8 deadline for employees to submit their verifications of vaccination or an exemption.
"I will say that people are being respectful of the process," said Tabitha Whiting, Centralia School District’s executive director of human resources.
Transmission of COVID-19 remains the highest it has ever been in Lewis County, according to data from the state Department of Health and Lewis County Public Health and Social Services. The week of Aug. 29-Sept. 4 saw 39 residents hospitalized and 382 new cases.
About 39.5% of all Lewis County residents have been fully vaccinated.
Grant said the worsening situation locally has impacted the return to school, with six students and staff missing out on their first day of classes because they had to quarantine.
“Our numbers just seem to keep going up in our county,” Grant said.
Centralia had its first day on Sept. 2. Since then, the district has confirmed seven positive cases.
At the Chehalis School District, about 22% of the district’s staff of 430 have reported being vaccinated, according to information provided by Communications Coordinator Andy Lynch. Roughly 27 medical and religious exemptions have been filed at the district so far.
Lynch said 78% of returned inquiries so far from staff have been that they’re getting the vaccine. The district is looking to wrap up its efforts by Oct. 1.
In a statement, Superintendent Christine Moloney said the district was continuing to take a proactive approach to keeping areas cleaned and implementing best practices to prevent disease spread, including wearing a mask and social distancing.
“Parents, we also need your help to keep our schools open, so please make sure you check how your child is feeling before they come to school each day. If they are not feeling well, keep them home. We appreciate each and every one of you and look forward to a wonderful year,” Moloney said in a statement.
Chehalis School District, which began returning students on Tuesday, has had 10 positive COVID-19 cases reported across all schools, Lynch said, including the Turning Point program and Visions special education job skills program.