With COVID-19 vaccinations beginning across the U.S., the Academy is planning to organize the first doses of vaccinations for faculty and staff as soon as February or March, depending on the speed of state-wide rollout.
“We would encourage, but not require, and perhaps even incentivize staff and faculty to get it,” Head of School John Austin said.
Massachusetts is currently in Phase Two of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution, during which Massachusetts residents age 75 and older can access the vaccine, with K-12 workers next in line starting in late February or early March. Students will not be able to receive the vaccine until Phase Three, beginning in April, once it becomes available to the general public.
“We’re working closely with local public health officials, and we’ve submitted all of the necessary paperwork for our staff and our faculty to receive vaccines. We’re waiting on the state, on the county, to get their allotment of vaccines and to make those available to teachers and staff at the school,” Dr. Austin said.
Deerfield does not have control over the process by which the vaccine is administered to its community — it is unclear whether faculty and staff would get vaccinated at a local testing site or if Deerfield’s own health center would be able to administer the vaccine. Administrators are waiting to see how the state wants to distribute the vaccine.
Dr. Austin explained that he was unsure how having the adults fully vaccinated would affect the school operationally and whether it would be possible to lessen any of the restrictions by then.
“I think some things will have to stay the same until the community is fully vaccinated. I envision masking and social distancing and some of the cohorting and de-densifying could be in place for the fall. As of now, we simply don’t know,” Dr. Austin said. “There are still many unknowns and much will depend on the distribution of the vaccine. This is why we continue to consult closely with public health and infectious disease experts.”
Multiple COVID-19 vaccines have been approved for emergency use from Pfizer, Moderna, and, very soon, Johnson & Johnson. The school said they would take whichever vaccine was offered to them by state public health officials.
While some boarding schools have chosen to keep students on campus all the way into the spring term in order to limit travel, Deerfield plans to have a two-week spring break in March followed by one week of remote learning, similar to the beginning of winter term.
According to Dr. Austin, administrators want to give both students and faculty an opportunity to rest as well as time with their families in the hope that everyone returns refreshed and with good energy for spring term. Deerfield will also accommodate students that cannot travel home by housing them on campus.
This winter, the school accelerated the re-opening process, moving the community into the Emerging 2.0 phase in only two weeks compared to the five weeks it took in the fall.
“The school has proven they can handle the re-entering of students to campus really well,” Language teacher Francoise Ellis said. While spring break will be several weeks shorter than winter break, Ms. Ellis explained that she is not worried as Deerfield has done well so far to keep its community safe.