Tom Gutierrez.
Gary Herron photo.

Thanks to a mass-vaccination opportunity at the Rio Rancho Events Center on March 15 — three weeks away from the goodbye to the hybrid learning process — quite a few Rio Rancho Public Schools employees were able to get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The vaccination event was provided by Walgreens, in partnership with the City of Rio Rancho and its Rio Rancho Events Center.

There were 2,300 vaccinations administered, promoted to educators.

City staff members invited people from RRPS, Bernalillo Public Schools and charter schools in the area, said Annemarie Garcia, the city’s Public Affairs Division manager.

Registration was taken care of via the state Department of Health website, so people in the qualifying phases received an event code enabling them to register for available appointments. Appointments not taken by educators were open for the public.

RRPS Chief Communications, Strategy and Engagement Officer Beth Pendergrass told the Observer, “All RRPS staff members wanting the vaccine have now had the opportunity to begin the vaccination process. Many have completed the process.”

On April 5, high school sophomores and juniors return to the classrooms for the first time, while other hybrid learners and any virtual-only learners can also return to all-in-person learning.

“The process was very efficient,” said Rio Rancho High School teacher and tennis coach Tom Gutierrez. “I was in and out in about 20 minutes — and that included ‘wait time’ after the shot.

“I’m very happy with the one-shot J&J dose; no post-dose ill effects, and arm soreness was next to nothing,” he added. “It’s a major relief to be vaccinated before going back to full-time teaching.”


NM moves to next tier

The New Mexico Department of Health on Friday announced that all New Mexicans in phases 1B and 1C of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan are now eligible for immunization, according to a news release.

Until then, four groups were eligible for vaccine: Phase 1A (primarily health-care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities); New Mexicans ages 75 and older; educators, early childhood professionals and school staff members; and New Mexicans with a chronic health condition.

Those groups remain eligible. In addition, frontline essential workers, residents of congregate care facilities, New Mexicans ages 60 and older, and other essential workers are eligible.

Phases 1A, 1B and 1C combined represent about 1.62 million of the 1.68 million New Mexicans eligible for vaccine by being age 16 or older, according to the release.

Phase 2, members of the general public not included in one of the above categories, will likely become eligible in April.


By the latest numbers

As of a March 17 state Facebook press conference, more than 595,000 New Mexicans have received one or more shots, and more than 349,000 — 20.8 percent — are fully vaccinated. By Friday, 1 million vaccines had been given, according to the governor’s office.

Of the state’s educators, early childhood professionals and school staffers, 17,400 are fully vaccinated; 46,600 have had at least one shot.

Expected in the state this week, Department of Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said, are 98,390 doses, including 2,400 of the one-shot J&J vaccine.

Department of Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said people are considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks following second doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and two weeks after the J&J shot.


Close to you

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, has suggested an update to the 6-foot social distancing guidelines could allow U.S. schools to reopen much faster than previously expected.

Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” March 14, Fauci said a Beth Deaconess Medical Center study in Massachusetts could reshape the way students go back to school by implementing a 3-foot social distancing guideline instead of the current 6-foot measure.

Researchers concluded there was “no substantial difference in COVID-19 cases among either students or staff among 251 school districts in Massachusetts following either 3- or 6-foot social distancing rules.

Mask-wearing guidelines were followed, as well as other suggested pandemic safety measures. Following those and maintaining 3-foot guidelines would “indeed” suffice to reopen schools, Fauci said, noting Centers for Disease Control was conducting its own studies.

“When the data shows that there is an ability to be 3 feet, they will act accordingly,” he predicted.

In Rio Rancho, Pendergrass said, “We have definitely heard that, but we are required to follow the guidelines from the (New Mexico Public Education Department). That said, the new guidelines say ‘6 feet to the greatest extent possible.’”

Classrooms could be nearly full April 5, when hybrid learning ends in RRPS.