Reality Check

01-09-2022Nurse's LetterShannon David, RN, NCSN

Returning to school this past Monday was probably the most difficult task we have faced since the outset of the Pandemic (March 2020). The Omicron variant of the coronavirus began to spread rapidly while we were on break and because there was an absence of school based reporting and a hiatus from weekly meetings with the Health Department, what we would face upon our return was essentially unknown.

First, to clarify, “Omicron” is not a new virus. It is a variation of the same coronavirus that began circulating at the end of 2019. Following the Greek alphabet, we now reference the earliest strain of the coronavirus as the Alpha strain and the Delta strain has been responsible for the illness we have seen since July 2021. Viruses mutate, or change, over time, and coronaviruses (there are at least 11) are known to mutate frequently and quickly. (This was the subject of a Nurse’s Notes in March 2021 -Variations on a Virus).

The changes to the coronavirus, now identified as Omicron, have resulted in the virus being more easily spread but appear to cause less severe illness, based on data from South Africa ( Public health experts are cautiously waiting to see if US patterns will mirror those of South Africa. The presence of the Omicron variant can easily be seen when looking at data from Maricopa County. The 7-day average for new COVID cases on December 17, 2021 was 1,774 cases; on January 2, 2022 it was 5,438 (EPI Curve). Though we do not operate a “dashboard”, here is school-based data from this week:

  • 5 persons tested positive for COVID over break, were placed in isolation and did not return to school. 
  • 7 persons were placed in quarantine, being identified as close contacts and not meeting eligibility criteria for exemptions, and did not return to school on Monday, January 3, 2022.
  • 8 persons were sent home with symptoms of illness and guidelines for testing.
  • 62 student absences due to illness were recorded for January 3 - January 7, 2022. Average 12.4 students per day (3% of the student population).
  • Current Active COVID cases: 7
    • -2 confirmed COVID positive cases were reported on Thursday, January 6, 2022.
    • -2 confirmed COVID positive cases were reported on Friday, January 7, 2022.
    • -1 confirmed COVID positive case reported the evening of Friday, January 7, 2022
    • -2 confirmed COVID positive cases reported Saturday, January 8, 2022.

On Thursday, January 6, 2022, we resumed weekly meetings with the School Health Team/Maricopa County Department of Public Health. At that time, it was announced that MCDPH guidelines will align with the updated CDC guidelines for quarantine and isolation. The rationale for this is linked here: What We Know About Quarantine and Isolation, CDC. For most people (not all) quarantine or isolation, will be shortened to 5 days at home. For the remaining 5 days, a person must wear a “well-fitting mask around others for 10 days from the date of their last close contact with someone with COVID-19 (the date of last close contact is considered day 0).” Overview of COVID-19 Quarantine for K-12 Schools, CDC. Unfortunately, for those who cannot wear a mask, a 5 day quarantine/isolation is not an option. The change in these guidelines at the same time that we are seeing more cases than we have ever seen may be troubling. Let’s acknowledge, up front, that there is frustration, disbelief and dismay over where we seem to be in regards to this pandemic. However, we are in a better place than we were this time last year.

Throughout the Pandemic, the guidance of the medical experts at MCDPH has been exceptional and has provided us with a framework for our protocols. These protocols, outlined in our “Smart, Healthy & Holy” plan, were adapted to meet the challenges of the Delta variant. They will help us get through the Omicron wave. Our policy since August 2021 has been that masks are necessary, indoors, when a 3 foot distance cannot be maintained. On Monday morning, all classrooms were supplied with medical masks for staff/student use. The need to be vigilant in applying our established protocols was addressed with staff this week. All buildings and classrooms are being disinfected, prior to opening, three times per week. Additionally, we are assessing where we can implement some targeted strategies based on case clusters. In reality, the next several weeks will likely be some of the toughest we have faced. But, face them–we will and get through–we will, because in reality, we have done so much already!

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel–pray for us!