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Outrageous: California Teachers Told to Claim to Be Health Workers to Skip Line for COVID Vaccine

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Both of my parents are in their 70s and in high-risk groups for COVID-19. My mother has been trying to get an appointment for a vaccination on her city’s website, which keeps crashing. My father doesn’t even bother trying to jump through the hoops.

That’s in New Jersey. In Florida, WFLA-TV reported that seniors have been waiting in line overnight to get the vaccine. In Delaware, according to WHYY-FM, there were five-hour waits for the shot and appointments were nearly impossible to get.

In one California Bay Area community, however, teachers in a wealthy district were told they could skip to the front of the line, all thanks to a hospital willing to bend the rules for a school district that had fundraised for them.

Now, the hospital’s chief operating officer is gone — and one suspects that if top school administrators are still going into the office, they’re not bringing any green bananas in.

According to the San Jose Spotlight, the Los Gatos Union School District in the wealthy San Jose suburb of Los Gatos, California, had done some fundraising for Good Samaritan Hospital. Good Samaritan wanted to repay the favor, Los Gatos Union School District Superintendent Paul Johnson seemed to imply.

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“We have had an exciting development in getting the vaccine for our LGUSD staff,” Johnson wrote in an email to faculty and staff.

“If you recall, last year at the beginning of the pandemic, we launched the ‘Feed Our Heroes’ program to raise funds to provide frontline workers meals at Good Sam and El Camino Hospitals. (Over 3,500 meals!),” he wrote.

Well, the folks at El Camino Hospital apparently just thanked them and went along their merry way, the ungrateful wretches. Good Samaritan, however, was willing to pay it forward; in Johnson’s email, he said their “kindness” hadn’t been forgotten by the hospital, which is why Good Samaritan said it “would like to offer vaccines” to the district’s teachers.

“The COO of the hospital says we can access the appointments through here and has cleared LGUSD staff to sign up under the healthcare buttons,” Johnson wrote in the email. “This is a wonderful gesture by our Good Sam neighbors and I encourage you to take advantage of this within the next few hours.”

Should this school district face punishment for this decision?

Not everyone thought this was such a wonderful gesture, however. This isn’t just because it’s clear there’s a quid pro quo at play, but also because Santa Clara County, where Los Gatos is located, isn’t yet at the phase where they’re inoculating teachers.

California uses a tiered system to distribute the vaccines. In Phase 1A, health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities are given the shots. In the first tier of Phase 1B — where Santa Clara County is at — educators who are “at risk of exposure at work” can get the vaccine, as well as those 65 and older.

There are two problems with this, though. The first is that Santa Clara County, a relatively populous area of the state, is only vaccinating those 75 and older right in Phase 1B right now, not teachers.

The second is that Los Gatos’ teachers aren’t “at risk of exposure at work,” since Los Gatos hasn’t resumed in-person learning yet.

“The district has plans to open once cases in Santa Clara County fall below 25 cases per 100,000 residents,” the Spotlight reported. “According to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, the county averaged 67 cases per 100,000 this week.”

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The Spotlight reported Los Gatos teachers definitively skipped in the line, though they provided no concrete evidence.

The Western Journal reached out to the hospital but didn’t immediately get a response. What we do know from the Spotlight’s reporting, however, is that both the school district and the hospital appear to acknowledge teachers could receive the vaccine even though they shouldn’t have been able to get it unless they were over 75.

“My understanding is Good Sam was cleared for the next tier, so teachers didn’t jump in line,” Superintendent Johnson said to the Spotlight.

“You would have to talk to Good Sam about offering to other districts outside of Los Gatos.”

Johnson’s understanding, inasmuch as you believe it, was wrong. So was Good Samaritan’s understanding of how the vaccine distribution rules worked.

“We had some open time slots to fill and welcomed 65 Los Gatos teachers into the clinic to receive their vaccines, following county guidelines,” Good Samaritan spokeswoman Sarah Sherwood told the Spotlight. “Now, with no additional open time slots, we need to continue to vaccinate the population of 75+.”

To quote the immortal Jeannie Bueller, dry that one out and you could fertilize the lawn.

On Tuesday, the San Jose Mercury News reported the chief operating officer of Good Samaritan Hospital was axed over the vaccine scandal, a day after the Santa Clara County District Attorney announced he was looking into the matter — particularly since it involved teachers affirmatively saying they were health care workers to get the vaccine.

“When people come for vaccinations … we’re not requiring in the county’s health system and other health systems are not requiring, any extensive documentation. But we are requiring people to attest — that means under penalty of perjury — to affirm their eligibility,” Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said, according to the Spotlight. “And that system relies [on] people being truthful.”

“So yes, it is very concerning that someone is suggesting people should affirmatively select a category that does not represent who they are,” he added.

Meanwhile, the hospital isn’t getting any more vaccine doses until it proves it can play by the rules.

“Good Samaritan’s actions are inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of the State’s direction on vaccine eligibility,” Santa Clara County COVID-19 testing officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib wrote in a letter to hospital leadership dated Jan. 22.

“The county will provide Good Samaritan with sufficient vaccine doses to complete vaccination of those people who Good Samaritan has already administered a first vaccine dose for,” he wrote, but unless the hospital can prove it has safeguards in place to make sure the vaccine goes to who it’s supposed to go to, the spigot has been turned off.

As of Tuesday, no plan had been submitted to the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Meanwhile, during a Jan. 21 Los Gatos Union School District board meeting, officials were assailed over the plan, with one teacher demanding Johnson rescind the “unethical” offer.

“So this tumultuous episode in LGUSD history has reached its climax,” middle school teacher Jim Fredette said, according to the Spotlight. “While my 75-year-old Vietnam veteran father and 71-year old mother with metastatic breast cancer wait at home for appointments, district leadership has found a back door for Los Gatos teachers to receive vaccinations.”

Johnson, meanwhile, explicitly denied that the quid pro quo he talked about in the first email was actually a quid pro quo.

“In my email to you, I mentioned the service opportunity last year. [Feed Our Heroes] We did that out of the sincerity of our hearts for the medical frontline workers as part of a Los Gatos community-wide effort,” Johnson wrote.

“We did not ‘give’ to ‘get.’ The Good Sam vaccination efforts are not tied to our service, and I’m sorry if this was miscommunicated.”

“Miscommunicated” is an interesting way to put it. Sorry if you thought he said exactly what he was saying, Los Gatos teachers. That’s not what he actually meant.

But before you expend all your outrage on Superintendent Johnson’s stoat-like behavior, let’s not forget Good Samaritan’s excuse that they had some appointments and vaccines just lying around unused in one of the most populous counties in America’s most populous state.

As Fenstersheib noted in his letter, “Good Samaritan has not begun to broadly vaccinate persons 65 years of age and older, much less made focused and appropriate efforts to reach that group.”

If those efforts had been made, those vaccine slots would have been filled, not apportioned to teachers in a school district that had done fundraising for the hospital (not that they were linked, nudge nudge, wink wink) and hasn’t begun in-person learning again.

At a time when we’re wondering why the vaccine distribution system is so broken, the Los Gatos Union School District is an object lesson in the multifarious little ways it gets wrecked.

People could die over this quid pro quo. If you’re over 75 and at-risk — or have parents who are, like me — you know how hard it is to get an appointment and to wait hours in line to get vaccinated.

This is a slap in the face to all of us in that boat.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Birthplace
Morristown, New Jersey
Education
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture




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