Christian Robles, Contributing Photographer

On Wednesday, Wilbur Cross High School opened its COVID-19 mass vaccination site for staff at four NHPS schools. Mayor Justin Elicker, New Haven Public Schools Superintendent Iline Tracey and other district officials visited and held a press conference at the site.

Wilbur Cross High School will serve as one of the district’s vaccination hubs for the foreseeable future. Operated by Fair Haven Community Health Care, the site served staff from four district schools and a few other educational facilities on its first day of operation. 

The first four groups of staff to receive the vaccine at Wilbur Cross were those of Bishop Woods Executive Academy, Clemente Leadership Academy, John S. Martinez School and King/Robinson Magnet School. In the coming weeks, additional district schools will be served at the vaccination site, as well as at other schools and community designated sites in the Elm City.

Its launch follows Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s Feb. 22 announcement that school educators, child care providers, custodians, bus drivers, food service workers and other education workers could receive a COVID-19 vaccine beginning on March 1. On Sunday, Tracey sent a letter to the NHPS community, informing them about when and where they could expect to receive the vaccine. For district officials and teachers, the beginning of the long process to vaccinate school educators is a promising development for the NHPS community.

“Dr. Lagarde and her team [from Fair Haven Community Health Care] have been working tirelessly, first with testing during the pandemic … and now with vaccines,” Elicker said during a Wednesday morning press conference at Wilbur Cross. “And it’s pretty incredible, I think we are going to do over 300 vaccinations today.”

Everett Lamm, vice president of clinical affairs at Fair Haven Community Health Center, expressed excitement at seeing teachers receive the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

Lamm said that medical staff vaccinated just over 300 people at the high school site on Wednesday. He added that the health system hopes to expand capacity at this site if it receives additional doses.

“Based upon what we have here, we are hoping to at least double or more [the vaccination capacity at Wilbur Cross], depending on how it’s going,” Lamm said at Wednesday’s press conference. “Because everyone coming through is getting a Moderna vaccine, there needs to be a second dose and so we want to be able to deliver first dose and second doses so that everyone can get [a] vaccine in a timely manner.”

In addition to the Wilbur Cross site, the New Haven Health Department conducted vaccinations on Wednesday at 14 other NHPS schools, which served as one-day vaccination sites exclusively for staff of each respective school. Ten other schools are scheduled to become one-day vaccination sites on March 12.

The district also assigned staff from other schools to receive the vaccine at local medical centers including the Fair Haven Community Health Center, Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center and Yale New Haven Hospital. First Student bus drivers, who operate the district’s busing system, will tentatively receive vaccines at a separate clinic on March 10.

Lamm added that Fair Haven Community Health Care is “probably” going to get a shipment of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, but did not mention a specific amount or timeline. Lamm also stated that the Wilbur Cross site will be open on Tuesdays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., noting that Fair Haven Community Health Care is looking to expand its service hours.

And Tracey’s Sunday morning letter indicates that the Hill Regional Career High School site will begin vaccinations for other NHPS staffers on March 20. The site will also operate on March 24 and March 31.

Tracey and individual teachers were impressed with what they saw at Wilbur Cross on Wednesday.

Before Wednesday’s press conference, Tracey told reporters that high turnout among teachers at Wilbur Cross is an indicator that they “can’t wait” to get the vaccine.

Tracey noted that more than 4,000 NHPS school staffers are eligible to be vaccinated. Of that number, roughly 200 NHPS teachers qualify for the Americans with Disabilities Act accommodation that allows them to opt out of in-person teaching. Tracey said that it is possible vaccinations will allow these staff members to return to in-person work even if they qualify for the accommodation.

Kristine Edwards, a first-grade ESL tutor at King/Robinson Interdistrict Magnet School, told the News she felt “great” after getting her first dose on Wednesday. With a vaccine, Edwards said she feels “absolutely” safer about returning to school for in-person instruction. 

“It’s hard for the little ones to really keep the distance and they’re so excited to be back,” Edwards said. “I feel so much better like I’m not only going to protect myself but their families too.”

Edwards said she found the appointment registration process to be straightforward. She received a Google Form from school administrators on Monday which allowed her to set an appointment for Wednesday. She added that once she arrived at the Wilbur Cross site, she did not have to wait long to receive the vaccine injection: in-person registration took about five minutes. 

Another NHPS staff member, Bishop Woods Architecture and Magnet School Literacy Coach Kim Torello, also mentioned the swift service at the vaccination site. She told the News that she has a follow-up appointment for her second dose scheduled for March 31 at Wilbur Cross.

Both Torello and Bishop Woods kindergarten teacher Beth Wright said that while they felt relatively safe about returning to school for in-person instruction starting Jan. 19, receiving a COVID-19 vaccine provided extra reassurance. They added that they hope that teacher vaccinations will bring NHPS instruction closer to something that resembles normalcy.

New Haven residents are encouraged to call 203-639-2245 to schedule a vaccine appointment.

Christian Robles | christian.robles@yale.edu