Jennifer Schuster is an occupational therapist for the city Education Department. A typical day might include helping one of her special needs students learn to hold a pencil.
“I can’t do that from six feet away,” she said.
She's eager to roll up her sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine, so she can roll them up for work with a little less worry.
“I’ll feel better, closer to my students with the vaccine. And not just for me — if I can’t get it, I can’t spread it to them and they can’t bring it home to their families,” she said.
On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and other big public labor unions can develop plans to vaccinate their members — a move that could protect more of them from COVID-19 sooner.
"The teachers union, the transit workers union, all these frontline essential workers, please now think about organizing your own system so it alleviates the burden on the retail system, which is going to have to be dealing with the general public,” Cuomo said.
Teachers are among the essential workers who are part of the next phase of the state’s vaccine plan, the governor’s office said.
"I'm happy with what the governor said today and of course, yes, we're already putting a plan together,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
Mulgrew says the union is now developing a plan that would rely on hospital networks and healthcare providers to create vaccine hubs in medical or school buildings.
"It comes down to if we have a plan in place and we identify how much, how many people will go with each institution then it's up to the state to send the doses to those institutions,” Mulgrew said.
Cuomo's directive comes as he and Mayor Bill de Blasio bicker about who is responsible for the vaccine's slow rollout to health care workers, known as Phase 1A.
It also comes as the mayor has issued his own plan for city-run hubs that could vaccinate teachers.
"I want in the month of January, in the next few weeks, I want us to start to vaccinate educators and school staff,” de Blasio said Monday.
Tuesday night, the de Blasio administration announced that occupational therapists who work in schools, like Schuster, could now sign up for the vaccine immediately, along with school nurses and physical therapists. So they won't have to wait for the UFT plan.
The Education Department said the city would continue its efforts to get the vaccine to school staff.
“Our in-person school-based staff are essential frontline workers, and we want to see them vaccinated as soon as possible. We are pushing to have all school staff included in the next phase and will work with City partners to make the vaccine available to them,” DOE spokeswoman Danielle Filson said.
Schuster says she’ll line up for her vaccine regardless of who administers it.
“Whoever tells me I can get it or whatever opportunity I have to get it first will just be the route that I go,” she said.