In Arizona, where several schools have moved online in recent weeks amid a virus surge, Gov. Doug Ducey declared that teachers would be among the very first people inoculated. “Teachers are essential to our state,” he said. Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, talked about possibly getting shots to educators this month. And Los Angeles officials urged prioritizing teachers alongside firefighters and prison guards.
But in districts where children have spent much of the fall staring at laptop screens, it may be too early for parents to get their hopes up that public schools will throw open their doors soon, or that students will be back in classrooms full time before next fall.
Given the limited number of vaccines available to states and the logistical hurdles to distribution, including the fact that two doses are needed several weeks apart, experts said that vaccinating the three million schoolteachers in the United States could be a slow process, lasting well into the spring.
And even once enough educators are inoculated for school officials and teachers’ unions — which hold considerable power in many large districts — to consider it safe to reopen classrooms, schools will most likely need to continue requiring masks and distancing students for many months, experts said, until community spread has sharply dropped, possibly by summer.
“I think some people have in their head that we’re going to start rolling out the vaccine and all this other stuff is going to go away,” said Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which represents public health agencies.
But in schools, as in daily life, he said, there will be no quick fix. “My feeling is that we’re all going to be wearing masks and keeping our distance and trying to be careful around each other for probably most of 2021.”