Joan Coleman, a math teacher at Hartford Public High School, getting the COVID-19 vaccination at Saint Francis Hospital on March 4. Adria Watson / CT Mirror
Hartford Public High School Social Worker Elizabeth Nieves getting the COVID-19 vaccine at a pop-up clinic at Saint Francis Hospital on March 4. Adria Watson / CT Mirror

Hartford Public Schools launched a mass vaccination pop-up clinic at Saint Francis Hospital on Thursday for school staff in an effort to return more quickly to in-person learning.

“When we closed schools almost a year ago, our schools changed forever,” district Superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez said. “What we’re doing here today and tomorrow with the vaccination clinics … is an equity move, because our students will be able to get back to classrooms where we know they can access learning the best way possible, where we know that they can have access to the resources, social and emotional and academic supports that they need.”

Like many districts throughout Connecticut, Hartford has had to shift learning models since the start of the academic year after students and staff tested positive for COVID-19 or needed to quarantine because of exposure to the virus.

But this week, students in grades pre-K-9 returned to school for full in-person learning, if their families chose to do so, while students in grades 10-12 continued with hybrid learning. About 41% of Hartford students are attending school in-person and 59% are still learning fully remote.

“Just this Monday, we welcomed back about 7,000 of our hybrid students, so they’re in our schools every single day,” Torres-Rodriguez said. “And as the weeks continue to progress, and vaccinations continue to become available, we will have all of our students back in our schools later on this spring.”

A sigh of relief

Dozens of school staff were present at Saint Francis on Thursday morning to get the vaccine. Some were indifferent about getting the shot, while others were nervous.

Elizabeth Nieves, a social worker at Harford Public High School, said getting the vaccine was nerve-racking but that the moment also felt like “a sigh of relief” and she is grateful.

“I think all of us having our COVID shots would allow parents to feel more at ease,” Nieves said. “I think we’re all kind of waiting for this moment. So I think it’s a sigh of relief for everyone. We’re here to support our kids, to teach our kids and to keep them safe, and getting our vaccines is part of our process.”

Gov. Ned Lamont talking about the pop-up vaccine clinic for Hartford school staff at Saint Francis Hospital on March 4 with, from left, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Hartford schools superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Saint Francis Hospital President Thomas Burke and Trinity Health CEO Reginald Eadie, who is also the co-chair of the state’s vaccine advisory group. Adria Watson / CT Mirror
Gov. Ned Lamont talking about the pop-up vaccine clinic for Hartford school staff at Saint Francis Hospital on March 4 with, from left, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Hartford schools superintendent Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, Saint Francis Hospital President Thomas Burke and Trinity Health CEO Reginald Eadie, who is also the co-chair of the state’s vaccine advisory group. Adria Watson / CT Mirror

Joined by Gov. Ned Lamont and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Torres-Rodriguez said on Thursday that 1,500 educators and staff will be getting vaccinated by Friday and that they are distributing the shots in cohorts. So school staff with approved Americans with Disabilities Act qualifications and those in pre-K-5 and pre-K-8 schools are in the first group, since they have the largest number of students learning in-person.

“We’ve got about 2,800 school staff, teachers, parents and other members of the Hartford Public Schools team. So this effort is going to be a two-phase effort. It’s today and tomorrow, and then it will be a next round,” Bronin said, adding that child care providers who are a part of the learning hubs that the district set up will be in that second round. He also explained that they do not have the date yet for when the next round of school staff will be given the shot and that vaccine supply is one of the main factors in determining that.

Lamont said that while the number of vaccines coming to Connecticut has increased — last month Connecticut got 50,000 vaccines per week, and that number went up to 150,000 last week — but that it’s still not enough.

“We’ve got a lot of people lined up who would love to get vaccinated sooner,” Lamont said on Thursday. “But right now, it’ll be open to everybody within a couple of months. Maybe sooner than that, depending on the vaccine supply.”

Adria was CT Mirror's Education and Community Reporter. She grew up in Oakland, graduated from Sacramento State where she was co-news editor of the student newspaper, and worked as a part-time reporter at CalMatters. Most recently Adria interned at The Marshall Project, a national nonprofit news organization that reports on criminal justice issues. Adria was one of CT Mirror’s Report For America Corps Members.

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