Waco ISD is not letting down its guard on COVID

By Rhiannon Settles, BSN, RN-BC

On March 10, 2020, I shared my first Facebook post about COVID-19. I had spent all week scrolling the CDC website trying to decide just how bad this virus could be. I met with other nurses, epidemiologists, and employees at the health district. I gathered as much information as possible to help our Waco ISD decide what this would mean for our students.

School supplies and COVID-19 prevention items

I learned that two weeks at home would be helpful in case anyone was exposed over spring break. Two weeks turned into a month, turned into three months. The next thing I knew, we were planning a socially distanced outdoor graduation for both of our Waco ISD high schools. 

Over the summer, I kept thinking, surely this is going to improve, surely we will not be rolling into next school year still battling this virus. It has now been one full year. ONE YEAR! I would have never guessed that we would still be fighting COVID-19 a year later. 

We have seen our share of tragedy and loss during this pandemic. The first death from COVID-19 in McLennan County was one of our own, Mr. Phillip Perry, the G.W. Carver Middle School principal for the 2019-2020 school year. We’ve lost employees, our students and employees have lost loved ones, have battled the virus themselves, and have experienced the dreaded two-week quarantine at home time and time again. Our nurses have spent countless hours after work and on the weekends contact tracing, making quarantine phone calls, answering questions, and providing a supportive and encouraging ear to fearful parents and employees.  

Waco ISD numbers mirrored the county numbers from the beginning. If the county had an uptick, so did we. If the county began to drop off, so did we. We knew we were doing everything in our power to control the spread of this virus within our walls. 

Masks were mandatory for all Waco ISD students, employees, and visitors. Everyone who comes through our doors has their temperature taken. Employees answer daily screening questions to check for symptoms of COVID-19 and potential exposures. 

Even with every CDC recommendation in place, we still experienced a number of cases on our campuses. When we noticed an increase of cases on a particular campus or area of town, we hosted free drive-through testing sites open to all students and staff. These sites would average 300-400 people in a few hours. 

When we returned from Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break, we held drive-through testing sites in hopes of catching as many people as possible before they returned to our campuses and exposed others.  

In January, we began conversations with Ascension Providence and Midway ISD to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to our eligible employees. We hosted four clinics during February and March and vaccinated over 1,000 employees from Waco, Midway, Bosqueville, Connally, La Vega, and West school districts. We currently have employees in series with their PCPs, local pharmacies, and the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District. We are confident that any educator who wants a vaccine will be able to obtain one very soon. 

As we look to the final 12 weeks of this school year, our case counts are lower than they’ve been since September.

We will continue to offer free testing on all Waco ISD campuses through the nurses’ offices and from 3:00-5:00 each day at GWAHCA for all WISD students and staff.

We will continue to require masks and social distancing as often as possible in classrooms.

We will continue contact tracing and quarantining on the same day we are notified of a positive case.

We are not letting our guard down. We are not taking any chances. We will continue to follow all CDC recommendations to keep our students, our staff, and our community safe. This isn’t over yet, but there is an end in sight. 

Rhiannon Settles, BSN, RN-BC, is director of health services for Waco Independent School District.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email Ferrell Foster at [email protected].

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