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Town Plans to Distribute Vaccine at Schools

Jan 28, 2021 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson
written by Ashley Kazijian, Contributing Writer

Town officials have begun outlining the basic set-up for the Covid-19 vaccine distribution plan. Bruce Wilson, Health Agent for the Bellingham Board of Health, and Deputy Fire Chief Chris Milot shared the outline for the distribution plan during a School Committee meeting held on January 12th, via Zoom.

Once the town is able to proceed with vaccine distribution, both the middle school and the high school grounds will be used in an attempt to minimize traffic congestion and support a continuous input/output flow. The middle school will be used for the pre-screening process, and the high school will be the vaccination site.

Appointments (made in advance) will be required to receive the vaccination, and those without one will be turned away during pre-screening. The appointments are vital to properly managing the distribution of the vaccine because “every vial has 10 doses in it, and you don’t want to waste any, so you have to make sure the number of people you have corresponds to the vaccine available. Also, it has to be defrosted; and once it’s defrosted, it is good for only 12 hours before you actually start drawing it up. Once you draw it up, it’s good for only 6 hours,” said Deputy Milot.

Those with appointments will first head to the middle school for pre-screening; once authorized, they will proceed to the high school to receive the vaccine. Those receiving the vaccine will remain in their cars throughout the process. There will be an exit route to redirect those at the pre-screening without appointments. There will be a designated waiting area before the exit at the high school to ensure that there are no reactions to the vaccine. A second dose of the vaccine is required 28 days after the first dose. Deputy Milot is hopeful that the town will be able to move forward with the vaccinations for seniors “in the beginning or sometime in the start of February, and the general public would probably be in April,” he said.

Once vaccinations begin, the goal will be to vaccinate somewhere between 500-1,000 people per day. Wilson and Milot were clear that the distribution is still in the early stages of planning, but with a lack of options for alternative locations, more uncertainty for the school year is expected with potential vaccine distribution during school hours.

Bellingham schools may be participating in a pooled testing program through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Superintendent Peter Marano explained that pooled testing involves mixing test samples together and testing the mixed sample using a PCR test to detect Covid-19. This approach reduces the amount of resource used to test the same number of individuals. Marano said that “the goal is to have every student and staff member tested on a weekly basis,” but it will be voluntary and with parental consent.

Results would be received within 24-48 hours, and should there be a positive result, those within the pooled sample would need to quarantine and take a second individual test. The pooled samples would go by classroom, so there would be multiple pools, and the same groups would be tested together every week. “The districts that are participating are testing k-12 and seeing around 70-80% participation so far, and they’ve had really good results,” said Marano. He added that some larger school districts were able to identify “possible in-school transmissions” early enough to keep them controlled. The program is being offered for free for the first 6 weeks, though more information is needed before a decision to participate is made.

Bellingham students continue to excel despite the challenges of a hybrid setting. Principal Megan Lafayette was pleased to announce that Gretchen Ames (class of 2022) has been selected to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) Student Advisory Council for the ‘20-‘21 school year. Working in conjunction with others selected in various towns, these students are “able to advise the MIAA on decisions they’re making and they’re in a direct line from the student population to the MIAA,” said Lafayette. Additionally, two other students from BHS were recognized as National Merit Scholars. These students scored among the top 50,000 (out of more than 1.5 million) on their PSATs.

The district’s teachers were highly praised in the School Committee meeting held on January 12th, via Zoom. Despite the challenges of a hybrid school setting, educators have worked hard to use all available resources and incorporate new techniques to increase student engagement.

Bellingham High School students are now being offered dual enrollment classes through the school’s partnership with MassBay Community College. Students are able to take MassBay courses in lieu of an elective, which allows them to earn college credits. Additionally, students enrolled in band are also eligible to earn college credits through programming with Rhode Island College, coordinated by the BHS Band and Chorus Director, Marie Forte. This allows students to participate in additional coursework since their traditional band experience has been affected by the pandemic.

Students and faculty across the district are adjusting to the “new normal” of the hybrid setting. Schools are making efforts to keep some sense of normality where they can and are constantly working to increase students’ connections to the schools through additional sessions with counselors and PE sessions to get kids moving at home. At the high school, the social-emotional well-being of students was recently measured through a survey. Though the survey was anonymous, students were able to self-identify if they wanted to be contacted by a counselor for additional support. School counselors are also exploring safe ways to hold support groups for students. A parent survey will be sent out to get a better understanding of what’s being seen at home. “We’re really working to partner with the parents as well as to make sure that all of our students are supported,” said Lafayette.
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