Health leaders work on improving vaccine equity, returning kids to classroom

They’re working to identify zip codes with higher case counts yet lower vaccine registration rates.

ROANOKE, Va. – While new cases of the coronavirus appear to be trending downward in the Roanoke Valley, issues with vaccine distribution remain.

Dr. Cynthia Morrow with the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts said they’re really focusing on how to get the vaccine out as equitably as possible.

Last week, they started a more targeted outreach process, emailing people based on age and zip code. They’re trying to identify zip codes with higher case counts and lower vaccine registration rates.

She said how they’re able to address equity issues is not ideal but it’s improving every day.

“Under no circumstances would I say that we have achieved equity. It’s going to be a long process, a very intentional process and a process that requires a lot of partners to ensure that we are reaching the right populations and making sure that folks trust us,” Morrow said.

Morrow said they’re doing a pretty good job of ensuring access to more rural communities, but there’s a lot of work to be done on disparities when it comes to ethnicity and disability.

At the same time, health leaders and schools are also hard at work to get students safely back into classrooms.

As we’ve reported, Gov. Ralph Northam is calling on all schools to make in-person learning available by March 15.

Morrow said most schools in our area are actually exceeding the governor’s expectations.

She continues working closely with superintendents every week to develop a safe plan to reopen schools.

“This is going to be a balance of recognizing the public health importance of getting children back in school and the public health importance of ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to minimize transmission of this deadly disease that is still circulating in significant activity in our community,” Morrow said.

The point they’re really focused on right now is how to maintain a 6-foot distance whenever possible. That’s going to be a challenge, especially when it comes to buses.

Morrow said they’re working through that and emphasizing the importance of strict masking policies. Her hope is that our case count will have decreased significantly by March 15. She said she’s confident schools are doing everything they can to keep students safe.

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