The COVID-19 Pandemic has ravaged our city resulting in hundreds dead and thousands more hospitalized in Chesapeake alone.1 Most crucially, with over 45,000 residents having tested positive for the virus over the course of the pandemic, our hospital system has been pushed to the brink.1 For the last week of January 2022, the 7 day average bed occupancy at Chesapeake Regional Hospital was 89.4% adult inpatient beds and 98.6% of ICU beds being occupied.2
Meanwhile, as hospitals overcrowd and Chesapeake residents become seriously ill or die, our small businesses have suffered from the prolonged duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Entering into January of 2022 with more and more restrictions being lifted on the economy, 66.2% of small businesses surveyed reported continuing to experience moderate to large negative impacts on their businesses as a result of the pandemic.3 In order to best support our small businesses and community, we must take the threat of COVID-19 seriously by taking every reasonable step we can to fight its spread.
Whether it’s the already too many Chesapeake residents who have died, overcrowding of our sole hospital, or suffering of our local businesses, COVID-19 has shown itself to be a threat to the prosperity of our great city. As a School Board member, some of the initial policies I will advocate for to combat the COVID-19 Pandemic and protect Chesapeake include:
1. Implement a Voluntary, Opt-In COVID-19 Testing Program
- This program will find COVID-19 cases before they spread, thus limiting the number of disruptive quarantines and keeping more students in in-person schooling.
- Funding for the tests and staff shall be completely through the State’s ViSSTA Program in which Chesapeake Public Schools is already enrolled.4
- Students shall not be tested without written consent of their legal guardian, nor shall staff members without their express consent.
- Testing shall occur on a weekly basis for those who choose to opt-in.
- Under no circumstances shall any staff member or student be required to participate in this program, nor shall they be punished for not participating.
2. Create a Dashboard to Track Volunteered COVID-19 Vaccination Data
- This information will be collected voluntarily by staff members and students’ legal guardians who choose to share this information with the School System.
- This enables families the freedom to choose whether they feel comfortable sending their children to learn in-person.
- This dashboard shall consist of a breakdown of the number of students and staff members who reported being vaccinated, not being vaccinated, and who chose not to participate.
- Absolutely NO personal-identifying information shall be included in this dashboard or otherwise be made publicly available.
3. Promoting Voluntary Student and Staff Vaccination
- As accomplished in the past, the School System must provide equal opportunities for Students and Staff to get vaccinated in cooperation with community partners.
- Vaccination clinics may even be done during school hours, granted written consent is given by a student’s legal guardian or express consent by a staff member.
- Staff members shall be provided paid sick-leave for any mild symptoms that may arise from vaccination.
4. Promoting the Masking of Students, Staff, and Visitors on School Grounds
- Aside from vaccination, masking remains one of the best strategies to mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in our communities and schools.5
- As such, our school system should adopt a policy that encourages the masking of our students, staff, and any visitors on our school grounds to limit disruptions to the learning environment from infection & quarantine.
- Further, our School System should provide masks for free for families wishing to wear them to protect themselves, including N95 masks which are among the most effective at mitigating the spread of COVID-19.6
5. Encourage Sick Students and Staff Stay Home
- Staff members who test positive for, exhibit symptoms of, or have proof of close contact to a sick individual shall be provided paid sick-leave that shall not count against them.
- Students who test positive for, exhibit symptoms of, or have proof of close contact to a sick individual shall be allowed to stay home without any negative consequence to their attendance.
6. Inform Families and Staff of Positive Classroom COVID-19 Cases
- If a student or staff member is in a classroom with a positive COVID-19 case, they or their family shall be informed even if quarantining is not required.
- Families and staff should be afforded the opportunity to choose whether to take added safety measures.
- The information of who was infected shall not be shared, nor any personal identifying information be made available.
7. Modify Current Attendance Policy
- Abolish the current practice of awarding ‘perfect attendance’ which encourages students to come to school sick or when otherwise unwell.
- The current policy also punishes students with disabilities, who suffer from injury, or otherwise must go to a medical provider to receive adequate healthcare.
8. Provide Classrooms with Air Purifiers
- Classroom air purifiers are an excellent short-term investment to limit the spread of numerous airborne infections including COVID-19, Influenza, and variants of the Common Cold.
- Long-term, we must upgrade our HVAC systems to have stronger filters that reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses, as well as implement UV light disinfection devices.7
- These enhanced HVAC systems will reduce the spread of infections keeping students and teachers in school, and limiting disruption to the learning environment.
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