SOUTHERN COLORADO — Colorado lawmakers will get access to the COVID-19 vaccine as early as this week, despite adults 70 and older and teachers not receiving it yet. This comes after Governor Jared Polis moved state legislators and other essential government workers into Phase 1B.
With the new changes to the state's distribution plan, local educators are voicing their frustrations over lawmakers being prioritized, especially over high-risk groups.
"It's definitely harrowing and heartbreaking to witness again how schools, faculty, and staff are forced to make impossible choices. I think if legislators aren't returning in person until they've had the chance to get fully vaccinated then it doesn't make a ton of sense educators are asked to do the same," said Avalon Manly, Colorado Springs teacher.
"I'm a little bit split on this because, on one hand, I understand they have a very important job. In a lot of ways, they control what happens in my job," said Angela Bird, President of the Widefield Education Association. "I really do see the value and importance of their job, but at the same time, I see it as a job that can be done virtually. I've been to many conferences, meetings, and large meetings where it's done virtually and it's able to be done well."
Educators argue that they're just as important, if not more so, in the pecking order of who should receive the vaccine.
"Legislators don't have to carry this decision every day between their own safety and well-being and the safety of their loved ones and the career that they're passionate about," said Manly.
"I'm really in the position to be a super spreader. I'm the one that's contacting 45-50 families a day, potentially 100 families a week because of the number of students I see as a secondary teacher. Someone in my first class could have COVID and could transmit that to me and I don't even know for a couple of days. By then I have transmitted potentially to every student I've contacted that day," said Bird.
The timeline for vaccine distribution right now indicates educators will receive the vaccine either late February or early March.
"I think educators need to be moved up and I know it's not an easy statement and I'm no epidemiologist, but I feel like if we want schools to open and we don't want them to be a yoyo of disruptions based on isolations, quarantines and illnesses then we need to return in-person once teachers are vaccinated," said Manly.
"Why can't we set up someplace like the World Arena or Air Force football stadium and get people zipping through there. Get all of these companies that are fighting over a little piece to cooperate and get as many people vaccinated as possible," said Cari Fox, President of the Academy Education Association.
With the timeline and rising COVID-19 cases, teachers say fears over contracting the virus have risen. Prompting some of them to take extra precautions to stay safe and healthy.
"I bought a pop-up tent that sits on my deck outside my door. When I get home from work, I sanitize everything that I touch. My watch, glasses, keys, anything that has to go inside with me. I'll strip down, put all of my clothes immediately in the washer, and start it. Sanitize any door knobs that I've touched, immediately take a shower and that's before I've even gotten the chance to greet my dogs," said Manly.
During a virtual press conference, lawmakers said while they'll have access to the vaccine, like everyone, it's a personal choice to receive it.
"There are HIPPA compliance issues so I don't believe I'm going to know if so and so received one or not. All I know is that they'll have access to get one before we get back," said Alec Garnett, Colorado State House of Representatives.
"I don't think we're jumping the line. By no means are we taking vaccines away from others that absolutely need it more than us, but I also think it's important for the continuation of our state government that the Legislature is able to meet as the Constitution requires," said Steve Fenberg, Colorado State House of Representatives.
Lawmakers say it's important they receive the vaccine to ensure they're not contributing to the spread of the virus.
"A lot of the work we've done this year and the work we've been doing is really about providing relief and providing support for those families hurting right now. So I do think this is necessary to make sure enough people have access to the vaccine so that we can meet while not putting people at risk and being a part of the problem," said Fenberg.
The governor's office also released the following statement:
"The legislature is very much a part of our COVID response and the legislature’s ability to safely conduct the legislative session as soon as possible is necessary to our state’s successful COVID response and recovery. We are making the vaccine available to front line journalists that frequent the capitol during session as they are essential to educating the public on the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States Congress in Washington DC was similarly offered the vaccine. Furthermore, in addition to being essential to the state’s COVID response, Dr. Redfield, the director of the CDC, instructed the country's Governors on Dec. 22nd to ensure continuity of state government in their vaccine planning. Following that instructions, many Governors, including Governor Polis adjusted their vaccine plans to do so. We can not speak to which individuals at the legislature have gotten access to the vaccine as the list of individuals was determined by bi-partisan legislative leadership and organized by their non-partisan staff."
Besides these frustrations, educators also not satisfied with how the state is rolling out vaccines.
"I don't think it's fair that depending on what kind of vaccine provider you go through if you're a Centura person working at Cherry Creek, you have your vaccine already. If you're a spouse of a certain healthcare worker, you have your vaccine already. I don't think it's fair that some people get to skip the line because of where they are in society," said Fox.
She says there is no real cohesive plan when it comes to vaccine distribution, especially for teachers.
"This should be one of the most altruistic efforts in our history, in my lifetime but it doesn't feel like it. It feels like a money grab, it feels like this company wants this and this company wants
this and it's not about getting as many people vaccinated as possible," said Fox.
"I would like to something that's very transparent and honest about timelines and when we're looking at people getting vaccinated. I was glad that the last update that the governor's office sent out actually said 70 and up should be mostly vaccinated by February 28. I think those are timelines that the general public needs to know," said Bird.
Teachers say they've been writing letters and trying to bring more attention to this issue.