The wisdom of Solomon is required to navigate uncharted paths going forward opening up our schools, closed in early March 2020 by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice. Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus, Superintendent of Upshur County Schools, wisely is forming an Upshur County Schools Reentry Advisory Council. We must have strategies in place as we actualize our Upshur County Schools calendar for the 2020-2021 school year. Besides serving on the Council where we will hash out our plans, I wish to reflect on Lessons Learned from our first major pandemic since that of 1918 when upward of 50 million died worldwide. We are only six months into the coronavirus pandemic, but we face the same dilemmas our mountaineer families faced.
Our current West Virginia Emergency Health Declaration continues to the end of June. While we hope for a COVID-19 vaccination that gives permanent immunity protection, that is at least a year away. While we have flattened the curve by sheltering in place, practicing social distancing, using good hygiene and wearing masks, we must continue these behavioral practices as the new normal. Any letting up will result in devastating contagious infection and renewing emergency health measures like keeping schools closed.
Since the viral load in COVID-19 is highest before symptoms appear, spread of the virus occurs readily if we are not on our best behavior. So, our Schools Reentry Advisory Council must keep in mind:
* Open schools in August, but plan closing any school that becomes a hot spot with a spike in infection.
* Establish and communicate clearly all guidelines to shutting down again.
* Keep education going through telecommunications with classes on-line.
* Monitor, through Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department oversight and our caring healthcare professionals, signs of stress and distress like: substance abuse (including overdose deaths), domestic violence, and child abuse in our students’ families (both nuclear and extended family living arrangements).
* Consider greater testing for COVID-19 by school nurses and school-based clinics using recently developed rapid screens.
* Catch up all children on other required vaccinations that may have been delayed by health care disruptions in the first wave of this pandemic. We do not need a measles outbreak, for example.
Surely we are in a fluid situation, so contingency planning that Dr. Stankus is ordering is a top priority.
We must go forward with flexibility to open our schools. Our eyes and ears for the sake of our children and grandchildren remain our dedicated teachers and service personnel who have yet a new role—contact tracers for a horrible virus spreading among us. The task set before us is daunting but not mission impossible.