By WCCO-TV Staff

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Teachers at Wisconsin schools with a higher percentage of students at risk for catching the coronavirus will be prioritized for vaccinations when they become eligible next week, the deputy secretary of the state Department of Health Services said Thursday.

Teachers belong to a group of 700,000 people who will be eligible for the vaccine starting Monday, joining those over 65. About half of those people have been vaccinated, allowing the move to the next priority group.

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In addition to teachers, the next wave of those eligible includes child care workers; people enrolled in Medicaid long-term care programs; grocery store workers; bus drivers; 911 dispatchers; mink farmers; prison inmates; non-essential health care workers; and staff in shared housing situations such as condominiums, student dorms and prisons.

Every school will be ranked based on the percentage of students on the free and reduced lunch programs, and the percentage of students of color, both of which are populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic, said Julie Willems Van Dyke, the state’s deputy health secretary.

Those rankings will then be used to create a schedule that will go to health departments to notify teachers when they can expect to be vaccinated, she said. Where teachers go to be vaccinated will vary, but could include health care providers, a clinic or a local pharmacy, she said.

Every teacher who wants to be vaccinated will over the next six weeks, but they shouldn’t all expect to get it immediately, Willem Van Dyke said.

“We’re going to get you all vaccine,” she said. “We cannot get every one of you vaccine on March 1, but you’re all going to get vaccine in the next four to six weeks. … We are going to protect you. We can only do this with the amount of vaccine we have available.”

Willems Van Dyke said vaccine will be distributed across the state, not just in urban areas, where there are more students of color than in rural areas.

“Many of the school districts in our rural areas have very high rates of children on free and reduced lunch,” she said. “We will ensure there is distribution across.”

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Health officials expressed optimism Monday that Wisconsin’s vaccine allocation will continue to increase, especially with the final authorization of a third vaccine from Johnson & Johnson expected within days.

Wisconsin plans to launch a vaccine registration website on Monday where people can sign up to get shots and find out where vaccinations are available. People can also learn about vaccine availability by contacting their local health care provider, Walgreens or by checking their local public health department website.

Positive COVID-19 cases had been on the decline in Wisconsin for more than a month before leveling off and slowly increasing this week. The seven-day case average was 604 on Tuesday, then crept up to 617 on Wednesday and 632 on Thursday. Even so, the seven-day average of new cases at its lowest point since early July. More than 562,000 Wisconsin residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 6,394 have died of the disease since the pandemic started.

Wisconsin’s vaccination rate was the 15th highest nationally, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. As of Thursday, 15.3% of Wisconsin’s population, nearly 843,000 people, have received at least one dose. That was ahead of the national average of 13.9%.

Nearly 412,000 residents have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, or about 7.1% of Wisconsin’s population, the state health department said.

Also on Thursday, Gov. Tony Evers announced a new $322 million federally funded program that provides money to Wisconsin residents who need help paying for rent and utilities due to income loss caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Eligible applicants must demonstrate a risk of losing their housing or lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or have a household income at or below 80% of the county median average, Evers’ office said. Rental and utility payments are made directly to the landlord or utility provider.

For a couple, that is no more than $5,233 a month in Dane County, $4,392 in Brown County, $4,100 in La Crosse County and $4,471 in Milwaukee County.

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