RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Gov. Roy Cooper announced Wednesday that teachers and other school workers will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning Feb. 24.
Educators and school personnel, which includes bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and custodians, will be the first in Group 3 to get the vaccine.
This group is expected to be about 240,000 people.
“Starting with a smaller number of Group 3 frontline workers helps providers streamline vaccine distribution effectively and efficiently. Providers can start distributing the vaccine methodically for essential workers while continuing to vaccinate those currently eligible,” Cooper said.
Dr. Mandy Cohen with the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said anyone who will work in-person at a school will be eligible for the vaccine in late February.
The North Carolina Association of Educators has been pushing for school employees to move up the prioritization list, as Cooper and other state leaders call for more students to go back for in-person learning. About half of states are vaccinating teachers, according to Education Week.
“We thank Governor Cooper for listening to the overwhelming message from educators, parents, and the community that educators require vaccination priority,” NCAE President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a statement.
The General Assembly is debating a bill that would require schools to offer the option of in-person learning. Families could still choose the remote option. The Senate passed it Tuesday, and the House is expected to vote on it Thursday.
“Moving to the next phase is good news. The challenge continues to be the very limited supply of vaccine,” Cooper said.
The governor said the state has administered almost 1.5 million vaccines as of Tuesday night.
“Yesterday, the Biden Administration told us that each state would receive 5 percent more vaccine, which amounts to about 7,500 more doses in North Carolina this week. The more vaccines we can get, the better off we are. And we’re going to keep pushing for that every day,” Cooper said.
Starting March 10, a new set of frontline workers will be eligible. When asked who exactly will become eligible for the vaccine in March, Cooper did not present specifics.
Group 3 includes about 583,000 people, according to DHHS. It’s comprised of workers in eight sectors where employees have to work in person: critical manufacturing, education, essential goods, food and agriculture, government and community services, public health, public safety and transportation.
Jason Smith, who owns the restaurants Cantina 18 and Harvest 18, said his employees are ready to get vaccinated.
“I think it’s gonna be a game-changer,” he said. “It’ll hopefully put some wind in our sails, get people more comfortable coming back and dining with us again.”
Amid the challenges of operating during the pandemic, Smith has kept a third restaurant in Morrisville closed.
The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association reported Tuesday that between March and November 2020, restaurants, hotels and bars saw a decline of $4.19 billion in taxable sales. They said 20 percent of the industry lost their jobs, accounting for 75 percent of all jobs lost in the state.
“We need a break. It’s time for our employees to get vaccinated and for us to keep doing what we’ve been doing for a long time to come,” Smith said.
He said with vaccinations underway and the number of people in the hospital due to COVID-19 dropping in recent weeks, he hopes Gov. Cooper will lift the overnight curfew that requires alcohol sales to stop at 9 p.m. and for restaurants to stop in-person dining by 10 p.m.
“We all know how to operate better with COVID now than ever before and how to do it safely. And, we’ve got folks coming in to celebrate their second shots with us who we haven’t seen in 10 months,” he said.
On Tuesday, Cooper signed Executive Order 193 which in part expands who can give COVID-19 vaccines in the state.
The order allows care providers such as dentists, as well as students at an “appropriately advanced stage of professional study to provide care” to administer the vaccine.
Cooper said this order was signed in advance of when the state has more vaccines being shipped to the state.
As of Monday, half of North Carolinians 65 and older have been vaccinated against the virus.