U.S. schools try to improve staff shortages, as CDC calls for canceling ‘high-risk’ extracurriculars to support and keep them open

Students have returned to class amid the coronavirus epidemic, and we’re here to keep you updated on what’s happening in schools around the United States, K-12 and universities alike.

Yahoo Life publishes a weekly wrap-up of news tidbits, interviews, and updates on the situation as it unfolds.

Some states get clever to attempt to fill COVID-generated school staffing lacks.

States are trying to address workforce shortages caused by the fast spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico has invited troops of the National Guard to assist as substitute instructors in preschools and K-12 public schools around the state to keep classes open.

This week, Lujan Grisham said at a news conference that the state’s school districts and preschools need at least 800 replacement teachers and childcare employees to complete shifts. She also solicited volunteers from state workers to assist in schools.

Lujan Grisham said that the state anticipates having at least 500 personnel to fill the vacancies.

“We’ve established that we have enough state personnel, along with voluntary help from the Guard, to reach that 500 easily, and that’s just looking at critical areas like education and veterans,” she said.

Due to personnel difficulties, students enrolled in Santa Fe Public Schools have been engaged in remote learning throughout the week.

Since Jan. 7, 129 new COVID-19 instances have been submitted to the district’s COVID dashboard, with over 19 percent of those cases involving teachers.

New Mexico is not the only state experiencing personnel challenges linked to COVID. On Tuesday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt stated that he would sign an executive order allowing state employees to volunteer as substitute teachers while receiving their normal salaries.

“From the start, we’ve emphasized the importance of schools being open for in-person learning,” Stitt stated during a news conference. “Students in Oklahoma deserve that choice.”

Last year, Stitt signed a law prohibiting school districts from enforcing mask restrictions. A court subsequently halted it.

Since the start of 2022, about 400 schools in Oklahoma have already either shuttered or shifted to open and distance learning due to COVID-19 staff concerns, according to NPR’s StateImpact Oklahoma.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers union, told Yahoo Life that states, districts, and principals “are correct to pull out all the stops to assist children in learning as Omicron surges.”

However, she emphasized that this should be a temporary solution. “While unqualified or insufficiently prepared employees may keep schools operating during a crisis, these short-term workarounds will not work in the long run,” Weingarten stated.

“Even before the implementation of COVID, teachers, nursing programs, support workers, and bus drivers had impossible workloads. Layoffs at the commencement of the epidemic and the virus’s malaise, particularly Omicron and political brawls over natural history education, have exacerbated the issue.”

Weingarten said that when the Omicron rush passes, schools must address fundamental causes. “The most effective method to solve structural shortages is to address their underlying causes, which include low salaries, unsafe working conditions, and divisive political battles,” she added.

“As Omicron starts to wane, this is the ideal time to act.”

Experts are hoping that the personnel shortages caused by the epidemic would be temporary.

“It seems as if the Omicron wave is nearing an end, particularly in places impacted hardest, such as the Northeast,” Dr. Thomas Russo, professor and head of infectious disease at the University of Buffalo in New York, informed Yahoo Life.

“If this country’s surge follows the pattern witnessed in South Africa and the United Kingdom, we should be in this mess for just another four to six weeks; fingers are crossed.”

Till then, National Guard troops and other unorthodox personnel will continue to teach at schools.

“Staffing difficulties will persist until the Omicron outbreak subsides,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a research scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, informed Yahoo Life.

CDC recommends canceling band and football rules to help keep schools open

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently revised guidelines for controlling the spread of COVID-19 in K-12 schools propose suspending some extracurricular events when the virus is spreading rapidly in communities to help keep in-person education continuing.

Football, wrestling, band, and any activity that includes singing, screaming, or exercising, “particularly when done inside,” the CDC added.

The nation is now experiencing a huge outbreak of COVID-19 infections triggered by the extremely infectious Omicron strain. While Omicron instances had decreased significantly this week, the CDC reported that they remained at 768,190 new infections on Wednesday.

While the CDC’s proposal may seem severe, experts believe it makes sense. “Extracurricular activities are more probable than [teaching] activities to result in COVID diffusion inside a school,” Adalja added.

“If the school’s strategy is to go virtual with a low entry point, those activities recognized to pose a greater danger should be restricted. The objective of a school is not to engage in sports, but to educate.”

According to Russo, football and band are debatable as high-risk hobbies if addressed properly. “Outdoor activities will be much safer,” he argues.

“The biggest danger associated with football occurs in the locker room; risk mitigation techniques such as mask wear inside would help mitigate risk.”

Additionally, he said that bands might rehearse and play outdoors to mitigate the danger. “Of course, given that all pupils are eligible for immunization, this reduces danger even more,” Russo continued.

Adalja anticipates that school restrictions regarding COVID-19 will gradually erode or be phased out “when the virus is treated more like other respiratory infections.”

Alabama school community sends notes to all families regarding possible COVID exposure.

Every family in Alabama’s Vestavia Hills City Schools department got a letter this week advising that their child may have been exposed to “possible COVID” due to the district’s high number of cases.

Superintendent Todd Freeman described the change in a weekly parent update posted on the district’s website. “After reviewing our absence statistics from this past Friday, we chose to send a possible exposure letter to every family to raise awareness,” Freeman wrote.

“Schools will keep sending out regular awareness letters in the manner in which we have done so throughout the year.”

Freeman advised parents to monitor their kids for COVID-19 signs for ten days of receiving a letter warning of potential exposure, before mentioning that students whose families have received a letter alert of possible exposure may remain in school “as lengthy as they do not exhibit COVID-19 signs or test positive.”

According to a COVID-19 dashboard for Alabama schools, the district reported 408 new COVID-19 instances as of Thursday. Around 7,000 pupils attend the district.

According to the district’s health and wellness policy, face masks are optional for students, employees, and school guests.

Those who test positive for COVID must remain at home for five days and then wear a mask for five days. Unvaccinated individuals who have been exposed to COVID are urged to remain at home for five days.

Russo stated that school exposures are “inevitable” now, owing to how Omicron has spread across the nation. “Exposures were as high as they have ever been throughout this epidemic during the Omicron wave,” he adds.

While notifying everyone in the district of exposure may seem excessive, Adalja believes they might have a role.

“Depending on the school’s policy on masks, social distance, and immunizations, exposure warnings may be beneficial,” he said.

Students in the Calif. school district endanger staying home over COVID security protocols.

Over 1,200 pupils in the Oakland Unified School District in California have threatened to stay home if their demands for COVID-19 safety measures are not granted.

Last week, a group of students signed a district-wide petition requesting that the district transition from in-person to online instruction until the administration makes a school “safe.”

According to the petition, this would include making KN95 or N95 masks accessible to all students, conducting PCR and fast testing twice a week for everyone on school campuses, and expanding outside eating areas available to students during inclement weather.

The petition claimed that students would “strike” by not attending school on Tuesday if the requests were not addressed by Monday.

According to district spokesperson John Sasaki, early attendance figures for Tuesday suggested a 24.6 percent absence rate. It is down from 28.3 percent on Monday and 27.2 percent on Tuesday.

“One possible positive element reflected in Tuesday’s rate is that some pupils who were quarantined during winter break may have returned to school,” Sasaki explains.

Sasaki expressed similar worries regarding the sudden increase of COVID-19 cases. According to the district’s COVID-19 monitor, the virus was recorded in 862 new cases last week, including 114 staff instances.

“This is why we dispersed KN95 and N95 masks to all members of staff [but not to students],” Sasaki explained. “We are supplying sufficient KN95 masks to schools to cover all pupils; the majority were distributed last week. They have begun to be handed to pupils.”

Additionally, the district erected covered dining areas in “dozens of schools.” Students may now access testing at ten hubs, monthly pooled testing at primary schools, and biweekly drop-in assessment at secondary schools.

“We have either met or are in the process of meeting the majority of the petition’s requests,” Sasaki said. “And we will work diligently in the next weeks to complete the remainder.”

According to Russo, COVID-19 mitigation strategies are now “more critical than ever.” “Compulsion to wear a mask is a key component of school safety practices,” he added. “However, it is extremely vital for kids to wear their masks during the day correctly.

It may be more difficult using N95 masks. Consider making an alternate elevated mask accessible to such pupils.”

Some Iowa schools will stop informing families and teams of COVID directions.

Certain schools in eastern Iowa will cease notifying families and employees about recent COVID-19 exposures after the cessation of contact tracing operations by local health officials.

The announcement comes as the Linn and Johnson County Public Health Departments in the state have suspended contact tracing activities.

Linn County public health authorities said this summer on the department’s website that the significant spike of local COVID-19 cases was “strengthening local contact tracing resources and resulting in contact tracing procedure delays.”

In early January, the Johnson County Public Health Department announced the conclusion of its contact tracking program. “There has been a 250 percent spike in cases over the last week,” authorities noted.

“The overall number of cases hit an all-time high of around 1,400 positive persons in the last week. As a result of this huge rise, JCPH is no longer able to contact every person who tests positive for HIV to perform case investigations and contact tracing.”

According to experts, it seems logical for many locations to halt contact tracking and notification operations at this time. “The number of illnesses during the Omicron wave was so overwhelming that many health agencies and schools were unable to do contact tracing,” Russo said.

“Of course, this is not optimal since this approach has the potential to assist reduce transmission.”

To be safe, Russo advises parents and school employees to “expect exposure daily” and “minimize risk by immunization and diligent use of high-quality, well-fitting masks.”